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Checks And Balances, The Federalist Papers: The History Of Federalism, Supreme Court Tilting Toward States' Rights?Conclusion

A principle of government that defines the relationship between the central government at the national level and its constituent units at the regional, state, or local levels. Under this principle of government, power and authority is allocated between the national and local governmental units, such that each unit is delegated a sphere of power and authority only it can exercise, while other powers must be shared.

The term federalism is derived from the Latin root foedus, which means "formal agreement or covenant." It includes the interrelationships between the states as well as between the states and the federal government. Governance in the United States takes place at various levels and branches of government, which all take part in the decision-making process. From the U.S. Supreme Court to the smallest local government, a distribution of power allows all the entities of the system to work separately while still working together as a nation. Supreme Court justice HUGO L. BLACK wrote that federalism meant

a proper respect for state functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country is made up of a Union of separate State governments, and a continuance of the belief that the National Government will fare best if the States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their separate ways. (Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91S. Ct. 746, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669 [1971])

The Constitution lists the legislative powers of the federal government. The TENTH AMENDMENT protects the residual powers of the states: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."


Federalism is the oldest form of government in the United States. The timelessness of the Constitution and the strength of the arguments presented by The Federalist Papers offer a clue to its endurance: the Founders wrote the Constitution so that it would always remain open to interpretation. Federalism's AMBIGUITY has contributed to its longevity.

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