Government in the United States consists of one national government, fifty state governments, and many local governments to create a grand total of more than 87,900. See Table 3-1.
Three systems of Government
There are basically three ways of organizing governmental structures. See Figure 3-1 for flow of power in the three systems. A unitary system places ultimate governmental authority in the national government. A confederate system is a league of independent states. A federal system divides government authority between a national government and state governments.
The United States developed a federal system because it was a practical solution which retained state traditions and local power, while creating a national government strong enough to avoid the problems associated with the Articles of Confederation. Federalism also solved the problem of geographic size and regional isolation. Other arguments for federalism include that it diffuses political dissatisfaction among the different governments, it provides a training ground for future national leaders, it allows diverse groups to develop in their own regions, and it brings government closer to the people. Certainly not every political viewpoint supports federalism. Some of the arguments against federalism are that it provides a way for powerful state and local interests to block national progress, it allows for the possibility of expansion of national powers at the expense of states, and it establishes a way for powerful state and local interests to deny equal rights for minorities.
The Constitutional Basis for American Federalism
While the Constitution does not directly refer to federalism, it does divide government power into national government, state government, and powers prohibited to government. National governmental power can be described as enumerated, implied, and inherent. Enumerated powers are found in the first seventeen clauses of Article I, Section 8. Implied powers come from the necessary and proper clause, the last clause of Article I, Section 8. Inherent powers derive from the fact that governments have an inherent right to ensure their own survival. The Tenth Amendment gives to the states reserved powers, which means that any power not given to the federal government or denied to the states is reserved to the states. One of the most significant of the state powers is the police power, the authority to legislate for the health, morals, safety, and welfare of the citizens of the states. National and state governments share some powers, such as the power to tax. These shared powers are called concurrent powers. Powers denied to government are called prohibited powers, and deny powers to both national and state governments. The supremacy clause, Article VI, Paragraph 2 provides that federal laws are superior to all conflicting state and local laws.
Defining Constitution Powers—The Early Years
To remain effective and relevant over the centuries, the Constitution had to be written in a somewhat broad manner, allowing the Supreme Court to provide a more specific interpretation of the general language. This was certainly the case with regard to the necessary and proper clause and the provision giving Congress the power to regulate interstate commerce. In the case of McCullochv. Maryland (1819) Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the necessary and proper clause of Article I, Section 8 embraced all means which are appropriate to carry out the legitimate ends of the Constitution, a ruling that dramatically expanded the power of Congress as well as the power of the federal government relative to the states. In Gibbons v. Ogden (1824) Chief Justice Marshall ruled that the power to regulate interstate commerce in Article I, Section 8 was an exclusive national power and one that could be employed in a vigorous fashion to regulate areas that had been considered the domain of the states.
States’ Rights and the Resort to Civil War
The Jacksonian era (1829-1837) created a climate in which most southern states attempted to nullify national laws, and to justify secession from the federal union. The defeat of the South in the Civil War ended the theory of nullification and secession. The war effort created a larger and more powerful national government, which for the first time imposed an income tax on its citizens.
The Continuing Dispute over the Division of Power
Although the outcome of the Civil War established the supremacy of the national government, the debate over the division of authority has continued to this very day. In dual federalism, which ended in the 1930’s, the state governments and national government are viewed as separate entities, like separate layers in a cake. Cooperative federalism, which emerged as the nation wrestled with the Great Depression, involved the state governments and national government cooperating in solving problems, like merged portions of a marble cake. In the 1960’s, another metaphor for federalism emerged. Picket-fence federalism added local government to the mix. The horizontal boards in the fence represented the national, state and local governments, while the vertical pickets represent different programs and policies in which each level of government worked to develop and implement a particular policy.
One of the key features of cooperative federalism is money provided by the federal government to state and local governments. Categorical grants-in-aid are designed for very specific programs or projects at the state and local level and frequently come with specific conditions attached. Block grants provide funding to state and local government for generally defined areas and then allow state and local government the flexibility to use their expertise in spending the money. One of the major barriers to returning authority to state and local dominance is the federal mandate, a requirement in federal legislation that forces states and local governments to comply with certain rules established by the federal government.
The Politics of Federalism
Generally throughout United States history, conservatives have favored the state governments, and liberals have favored the national government. For the most part the national government has been used as the engine of change, the means by which more liberal programs including welfare and civil rights are imposed upon the nation. States typically favor the status quo and resist these changes, thus gaining the favor of conservatives. This dichotomy is captured in the differences between the presidencies of Lyndon Johnson, who favored an activist federal approach to solving problems and Ronald Reagan, who advocated allowing states to take the lead in solving the problems of the people.
Federalism and the Supreme Court
After an initial period of opposition to an activist federal government in the 1930s, the Supreme Court approved an expanded federal role for much of the twentieth century. Congress began to use its power to regulate interstate commerce as the justification for a dramatically expanded legislative role and the Supreme Court consistently upheld this adventurous approach to policymaking. In the 1990s however the Supreme Court sought to limit national government power and breathe new life into the Tenth Amendment. In the case of United States v. Lopez (1995), the Court struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, arguing that the congressional power under the commerce clause was not unlimited and definitely had no applicability to the issue of guns in schools. This was a matter for the states, not Congress. In Printz v.United States (1997), provisions in the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requiring state employees to perform background checks was ruled unconstitutional.
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States Immune Suit
“Individuals With Disabilities Education Act”
The premise of this article is that when a state accepts federal funding for education, the state must provide a free appropriate education for students with disabilities. Citizens can sue the state if this is not done.
How does the Eleventh Amendment apply to this case?
What other case is cited to indicate when a state has exceeded its constitutional authority?
Do you agree with the ruling in this case?
(Answers appear at the end of this chapter.)
Fill-in-the-Blank Supply the missing word(s) or term to complete the sentence.
1. A system of government in which power is divided between a central and subdivision governments is called a ________________ system.
2. _______________ powers are those that are derived from the fact that the United States is a sovereign power among the nations.
3. The Tenth Amendment establishes the ________________ powers to the states.
4. The denial of power to state and national government is referred to as __________________ ___________________.
5. The legitimate exercise of national government power ______________ any action by states.
6. The issue in the McCulloch v. Maryland case was the extent to which the national government has ________________________ powers.
7. Governors and mayors generally support____________________ grants.
8. The doctrine that emphasizes a distinction between federal and state spheres of governmental authority is referred to as __________________ ________________.
9. A major set of block grants focused on state ______________ programs in the mid-1990’s.
10. ______________ _____________ require state and local governments to comply with certain rules.
True/False Circle the appropriate letter to indicate if the statement is true or false.
T F 1. A unitary system of government places all of the power in state and local governments.
T F 2. The United States Constitution expressly requires that we should have a federal system of government.
T F 3. The national government may deny the use of reserved powers to the states.
T F 4. The Tenth Amendment provides for the reserved powers of the states.
T F 5. Most concurrent powers of the states are specifically stated in the Constitution.
T F 6. The Civil War permanently ended the idea that any state can claim the right to secede.
T F 7. Chief Justice John Marshall was a strong supporter of state’s rights.
T F 8. The case of McCulloch v. Maryland (1819) set a precedent for a narrow interpretation of the implied powers of Congress.
T F 9. Dual federalism emphasizes a distinction between federal and state spheres of authority.
T F 10. The Supreme Court continues to be consistent in allowing the federal government to expand its power under the commerce clause.
Multiple choice Circle the correct response. The correct answers are at the end of the chapter.
1. The most popular way of ordering relations between central government and local units is by a
An adequate short answer consists of several paragraphs that relate to concepts addressed by the question. Always demonstrate your knowledge of the ideas by giving examples. The following represent major ideas that should be included in the short essay answer.
1. Discuss the three ways of organizing relations between a central government and local governmental units.
Refer to Figure 3-1 for a view of the three ways and how power flows in each.
Unitary system is one in which a centralized government gives some powers to local or sub-divisional governments.
Confederal system is one in which a league of independent states gives some power to the central government.
Federal system is one in which power is divided between a central government and regional or sub-divisional governments.
2. Identify and explain the division of powers between the national and state governments in the Constitution.
Expressed or enumerated powers are national government powers from Article 1, Section 8.
Implied powers are national government powers from the necessary and proper clause.
Concurrent powers are powers shared by national and state government.
Reserved powers are state powers guaranteed by the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.
Supremacy clause makes federal law supreme over conflicting state and local law.
3. Trace and explain the debate over the division of powers between national and state government, since the Civil War.
Dual federalism is the system of government in which the states and national government each remain supreme within their own spheres.
Cooperative federalism is the system in which the states and national government should cooperate in solving problems. Federal grants-in-aid are the main factor in developing cooperative federalism.
4. Discuss the latest trends in our federal system, including federal mandates, and Supreme Court decisions.
Federal mandates are a requirement that forces states and local government to comply with certain rules, and are a major barrier to new federalism.
Printz v. U.S. struck down the provision of the Brady Bill that required state employees to check the background of prospective handgun purchasers.
U.S. v. Lopez held that the Gun-Free School Zones Act in 1990 exceeded Congress authority under the commerce clause of the Constitution.
The Supreme Court has struggled to maintain consistency in recent years, as it upheld the Oregon Death with Dignity law against challenge by the Bush Administration, while ruling in favor of the Bush Administration against California’s medicinal marijuana program.