Federalism Essay

3207 words - 13 pages


The term "federalism" describes the changing relationship between the national and state governments as they sort out their roles and responsibilities within the federal system. America has a decentralized government; there is no single source of power or center of government. Federalism goes well with pluralism, because of the multiple centers of power that exist in the government, and also the many divisions of power. There are several levels of government including the federal government, the 50 states, county and city governments and independent school districts. However, the major players are the national and state governments. The tensions between the two are clear when it comes to civil rights, money, and power.
The tension is all about the constant power shifts. Power shifting policies that affect everyone like welfare, the minimum drinking age, or affirmative action policies for minority owned businesses, this is all federalism, the ever changing balance of power between the state and federal governments. Federalism started out as layered cake, with clear distinctions between the spheres of state and national government. When the constitution was born, it held that certain policy areas, such as interstate commerce and defense, were the exclusive provinces of national authority, while public health and intrastate commerce, belonged clearly and exclusively to the states. This is Dual federalism. The two levels had equal strength and power, which lead to jealousy. Competition between the two was primarily over economic development and regulation.
When imposing uniformity, the system creates tension. For example, during the 1960’s, the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the Bill of Rights to the states. Now standards of equality exist in criminal cases that states have to meet, but critics say that this interferes with maintaining order. The seventeenth amendment, while making the legislators directly answerable to voters, also had the effect of diminishing their roles as representatives of their individual states since they now answered to the general public rather than to the state legislatures, hurting state freedoms. The Eleventh Amendment denied Congress the authority to make states subject to lawsuits in federal courts. Power seesawed between the two levels of government over time. Was this the founders’ intention? During their time, fear of “big government” and of anarchy induced self destruction plagued the conventions. The anti federalists were afraid of tyranny and the federalists worried that the country would collapse without guidance.
Federalism changes according to the country's needs and it is the brevity of the constitution allows this flexibility. It was never merely a set of static institutional arrangements, frozen in time by the Constitution. It is an adaptable process that has economic, administrative, and political aspects as well as constitutional ones. It evolved from dual...

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