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Federalism in the American System Essay

There is much mentioned about “states rights” in the political process, but while many have heard of the term, they may not exactly understand what states rights refers to. In order to understand the term states rights, one needs to understand the term federalism. From a clear understanding of what federalism actually is, one can draw a sharp conclusion as to what the relationship between the states and the federal government as well as the courts role in maintaining the separation of powers so that the states and the federal government do not encroach upon one another.

Federalism refers to a “split government” where there will be clearly defined laws of the land on a federal level as well as local governments and laws that exist on a state level. The concept of federalism was employed by the Founding Fathers of the United States as a response to the previous colonial relationship with Great Britain. Under the rule of the monarchy, the colonies were run by a central authority that was greatly removed from the populace. With federalism, there was an elimination of a authoritarian central government and there was also a the notion that government would also be localized.

(Granted, certain federal laws and, of course, the Constitution trumped all state laws) This allows the government to exist closer to the individual members of the population as opposed to being a top heavy governmental system that is operated by political elites. Connected to the concept of federalism is the concept of “separation of powers. ” What this refers to is that each branch of government had specific powers that were not reliant upon one another.

These areas of government include the executive branch (President/Governor), the Legislative (Congress/State Legislatures) and the Judiciary (the courts). Now, in some cases, there may be a dispute in regards to the overreach of a branch of government and this is where the courts will generally intervene and rule on the constitutionality of a particular area. For example, the federal government has passed a series of laws regarding immigration and still has proven ineffective in this area. On the local level, certain municipalities have passed local laws to dissuade illegal immigration.

The courts, however, have ruled that such actions are not constitutional as the constitution only grants the federal level with the authority to enforce immigration law. Hence, the judiciary has ruled that under the separation of powers the local governments have exceeded their authority and have encroached into federal jurisdiction. Granted, there are also challenges to the court’s role as different judges may have different decisions. Some judges are strict in terms of the interpretation of constitution and these judges are known as originalists.

Other judges see the constitution as being open to interpretation and these judges have become known as activists. As such, the ruling on separation of powers and federalism can vary from judge to judge. In a way, this is good because if all judges ruled the same then the judiciary would be little more than a variant on an authoritarian system that trumps the other branches of government. In short, federalism refers to the two government system of a federal and a local government that is kept in check by the constitution.

The constitutionality of the government’s laws is then checked by the courts and this is sometimes done to maintain the separation of powers of the various governments. Bibliography Madison, J. , Hamilton, A. , and Jay, J. (Date Unknown) THE FEDERALIST PAPERS. Retrieved 4 September 2007 from http://patriotpost. us/fedpapers/fedpapers. html Scheikart, Larry. A PATRIOT’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. New York: Penguin, 2007. Zinn, Howard. A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES. New York: Harper’s, 2007.


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