Federalism

Federalism has played a large role in our government since the time that the Constitution was ratified. It originally gave the majority of the power to the states. As time went on, the national government gained more and more power. It used the “necessary and proper” clause of the Constitution to validate its acts, and the Supreme Court made decisions that strengthened the national government creating a more unified United States. Finally, the recent course of federalism has been to give powers back to the states.
Federalism was needed in the Constitution to make sure that the national government did not gain too much power. After the revolution, many people feared a monarchy or any form of government in which the central ruling body had too much power. The framers wanted the states to have much more power than the national government, and allowed the national government power only in areas that concerned the nation as a whole. Areas such as war, negotiation, and foreign commerce were some of the only circumstances in which the national government had absolute power. By limiting the national governments power in this way, the writers felt that they had ensured the sovereignty of the individual states. Also, people have a tendency to feel more connected to their state government than they would a national government. Therefore, by giving the states more power, people are more likely to be happy with their government. Federalist papers 45 and 46 are both arguments by James Madison as to why the people should not be afraid of the proposed Constitution and the powers it entailed regarding the national government. In paper 45, he shows that without the state legislatures a president cannot be elected. The same is true for the Senate and the House of Representatives. Madison also stated in paper 45 that the number of tax collectors that the national government will have compared to the number employed by the state governments is very small. The powers given to the national government under the Constitution would be few in number and their purpose would be specifically defined so that those powers could not be overstepped. At the same time, the powers of the state governments are abundant and not specifically defined, clearly swaying the balance of power towards the states. Federalist paper 46 is essentially an extension of the points made in 45. It says that in the case that the national government should impose on the limits placed on it by the constitution, the states will have the power to defeat the encroachment and return the national government to its previous state of power. Madison also stated more points in the Constitution through which state governments would have more power than the national government. He says that the only way the national government could take over the state governments would be if the people continuously elected men to office that wanted to betray both people and states.
The “necessary and proper” clause was included in the Constitution to allow for an “active and powerful government.” It is also known as the elastic clause and basically stated that the national government had the ability to pass any law that was necessary and proper to carry out national business. John Marshall expanded the interpretation of the “necessary and proper” mainly through the Supreme Court decision in McCulloch v. Maryland. His decision that a state could not tax an agency of the national government was not the only outcome of the court case. Marshall took the opportunity to say that even though it is not mentioned in the Constitution, the national government has the right to charter a national bank.
The decisions on McCulloch v. Maryland and Gibbons v. Ogden also expanded the role of the national government. McCulloch v. Maryland’s decision that a state government could not tax an agency of the national government was important in that it set a precedent that gave the national government more power than it had previously had. Even though the power to tax the national government is not denied to the states in Article I, section 10 of the Constitution (restrictions upon powers of the states), John Marshall decided that due to the “necessary and proper” clause it now is. In the decision regarding Gibbons v. Ogden, Marshall ruled that a state can’t grant a monopoly when it is related to interstate commerce. This gave supremacy to the national government in issues regarding interstate commerce. Through his interpretation of Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, John Marshall successfully increased the power of the national government.
The 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments to the Constitution were also sources of power for the national government when it came to its jurisdiction over the states. By passing laws against slavery and allowing “equal protection under the law,” the national government gave itself the power to enforce those laws and therefore enhanced authority over the states. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery and in section 2 stated that “Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.” By adding section 2 to the amendment, Congress was simply ensuring their supremacy over the state governments. Among other things, the 14th Amendment guarantees “equal protection under the law” to all citizens. Since all citizens are guaranteed protection, it is left up to the national government to make sure all citizens are receiving these rights. Even though many thought that the 14th Amendment meant that the Bill of Rights was nationalized, its interpretation by the Supreme Court was much different. Just as in the 13th Amendment, the 14th in section 5 is given the power to enforce the article. The 15th Amendment gave the right to vote to former slaves and says that the right to vote cannot be denied on account of race, color, or previous condition or servitude. Just as in the 13th and 14th, the 15th Amendment allows for enforcement of the law by Congress.
The New Deal was an effort by Franklin Roosevelt and Congress to try and decrease unemployment and raise trust in the government following the stock market crash in October 1929. In addition to these goals, the New Deal had an important impact on the state of federalism that existed in the United States at the time of the crash. Through the enforcement of many new programs and agencies, the national government gained power with the ability to enforce those new agencies and programs. Programs such as the Emergency Relief Act, even though it granted aid to the states, gave the national government the power to divide up that aid to the states that needed it most. As individual programs, the acts of the New Deal did not do much for the power of the national government. But, as the number of federally mandated programs increased, so did the power of the national government.
Competitive Federalism came just after the time of, and decentralized Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. The Great Society expanded the size and capacities of the national government’ domestic agencies. During The period of Competitive Federalism laws such as the Highway Bill, the Equal Opportunity Act, and the Clean Air Act were passed.
Fiscal Federalism came about during the years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The central idea of Reagan’s plan was devolution. This means that he wanted to return the condition of government back to what it was when the Constitution was first ratified. Reagan was in favor of giving the states more power and limiting the national government. Reagan also wanted to reform Medicare and Social Security. Another goal of Fiscal Federalism was to balance the budget.
Recently, the Supreme Court of the United States has been reversing the trend of federalism and giving powers back to the states. The main reason is due to the fact that Reagan appointed William Rehnquist as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
Like Rehnquist, Reagan also appointed three other judges that had similar ideas and philosophies of how government should govern. Following Reagan’s plan for devolution, Rehnquist’s decisions enhanced the powers of the states. The case of United States v. Lopez in 1994 decided that the national government could not place a law on citizens carrying guns in gun free school zones. While at first this seems like a stupid decision by the Supreme Court, actually they are allowing the states to set their own regulations on the carrying of firearms in a gun free school zone. Another big case that granted more power to the states was Roe v. Wade. The decision in this case gave each state the right to regulate abortion. Even though each decision by itself seems small, as more and more cases are decided in favor of state rights, the balance of power starts to swing back toward the states.
Welfare reform has become a huge issue in the United States today. States now have the right to decide how long someone can stay on welfare and the amount that that person receives. This is one more way that the national government has allowed the states to gain more power. Many national programs were eliminated or changed by the Welfare Reform Act, such as Aid to Families with Dependant Children, and the Food Stamp Program. Child welfare and child protection programs kept funding during the whole process. Mandates granted to states that act in ways desirable to the national government in the Welfare Reform Act get more funding. It also said that states could not allow people to stay on welfare for more than five years.
Federalism has evolved a great deal since it was first incorporated into our Constitution. Many court cases; acts of Congress, and presidential policies have changed the shape of Federalism in the last 200 years. It seems as if the United States version of Federalism will be an ever-changing institution whose structure relies on Supreme Court decisions and many other factors. It is even changing as we speak, due to the result of the recent terrorist attacks on our country. Although a drastic change in the United States form of Federalism in the near future may not seem evident, the possibility is always present.