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Dual Federalism Essay

This is a state of government where power is shared between the federal and the state governments. In dual federalism, both the national and the state governments hold sovereign power in their respective areas of authority. The separation of power, resources, and programs is clearly defined. Dual federalism is normally compared to a layer cake whereby the levels of powers do not overlap each other. In this case, no level should interfere with the powers of the other. That is why it is referred to as the exercise of concurrent power. That gives every level of government supremacy in their area of authority. This paper looks at the historical definition of dual federalism and how it has changed over the years (HistoryLearningSite, 2013).

During the period of 1836 – 1933, dual federalism was defined by the states and federal government having distinct and separate tasks. In this case, the spheres of responsibility were clearly defined. A layer cake can best describe the division of power between the two levels of governance. At the time, different courts had different interpretations of federalism. The Marshall court supported expansive federal powers. This court had a major influence on how power was shared between the national and state governments. Two cases that were key in defining dual federalism are McCulloh v. Maryland of 1819 and Gibbons v. Ogden of 1824. The Taney Court on the other hand had a different view of federalism. The court supported two equally powerful levels of government (Lee, 2010). The court was of the view that the national government should not exceed its powers beyond the constitutionally accepted levels. The court was influential in limiting the control that the national government had on the issue of slavery and civil rights. One key case at the time was Dred Scott v. Sandford of 1857.

The second level of federalism was Cooperative Federalism. It existed between the years 1933 and 1961. Cooperative federalism increased the level of participation of the national government in local issues. This was made possible by a deal signed by President Franklin Roosevelt known as the New Deal. Initially, the New Deal was rejected by the Supreme Court. It later changed that decision in 1937 starting the revolution in national policy. The structure of the marble cake best represents cooperative federalism (USLegal, 2014). Under this system, the level of programs funded or supported by the national government increased. The two levels of government also became interdependent policies and were implemented with cooperation between the two levels. The new deal also assisted in the creation of recovery programs.

The third stage of federalism took place during the period from 1961 to 1981. This was known as Regulated federalism. At this stage, there was even further intervention in the management of local programs and resources by the national government. The national government demanded to have more control by threatening to eliminate grants for certain programs. The state governments were given categorical grants whose discretion remained in the hands of national government. Such programs include grants given to fight national poverty. The ills that state governments seemed unable to handle were taken up by the national government. Such grants included money for urban renewal, education, and job training. In another example, the national government demanded that state governments regulate speed limits within states. Failure to do this would lead to the withdrawal of transport sector funding. At this time, the Supreme Court reduced the powers that the state government held while increasing national government powers.

The fourth stage in the definition of federalism was New Federalism. It began from 1981 onwards. It marked the return to state powers (Young, 2001). Although the national government still gave grants to the state governments, state governments had more discretion. The national government allowed state officials more room to decide what they wanted to do with the money offered to them. The grants therefore became less restrictive. At the time of President Ronald Reagan, the rights that the states had were used as the litmus test to evaluate how effective state power could be. There have been various changes over the years with each president offering a different approach on federalism. For example, during the Bush administration, the powers of federal government expanded after September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The Obama administration on the other hand is characterized by collaborative federalism. In this case, there was some level of cooperation between states and the national government.

Since 1981, the Supreme Court has always voted in favor of expanding the rights of state governments. Although all these changes have occurred over the years, the definition of dual federalism continues to affect the way power is shared between state and national government. Currently, there are certain limitations that define the ability of state governments (unm.edu, 2013). For example, the state governments cannot achieve the effectiveness with which the national government collects taxes. The fact that the national government has more financial power makes the states comply with most of its regulations. Currently, the federal government employs the state and local government as agents of administration.

Through that, it can keep the states in check. When there are vast amounts of money that are required in a project or disaster recovery, the federal government has to intervene. During the two hundred years, the understanding of dual federalism has changed. As a result, it is often characterized as the phenomenon that has several stages of its development: Dual federalism, Cooperative federalism, Regulated federalism (Creative federalism, New fiscal federalism, Partnership federalism), and New federalism (Reinventing federalism). Obviously, the relevant factor of difference between the forms of federalism is the correlation of national government and states, their partnership and level of power.


HistoryLearningSite (2013). Federalism. Retrieved from http://www.historylearningsite.co .uk/fed.htm
Lee, J. N. (2010). Federalism. Florida: Florida State University. unm.edu. (2013). Coercive, Cooperative, and Collaborative Federalism in Context of Intergovernmental Relations. PA 524, 1-39. USLegal. (2014). Dual Federalism Law & Legal Definition. Retrieved from http://definitions. uslegal.com/d/dual-federalism/

Young, E. A. (2001). Dual Federalism, Cocurrent Jurisdiction, and the Foreign Affairs Exception. The George Washington Law Review, 139-188.

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