Federalism can be interpreted and defined in many ways. The most communal definition is “the constitutional division of power between U.S. state governments and the federal government of the United States.” Federalism can be summarized in other ways, such as the compromise of power between local or state governments and the federal government. Also, it can be considered a system to distribute power between local or state governments and the federal government. So simply put, federalism the is division, distribution, and compromise of government power.
After the declaration of independence in 1776, the United States were not very united at all. States, as they do today, had many differences in opinion when it comes to power over things like politics, economics, and how their governments should be run. For the most part each state essentially wanted to govern themselves. But all agreed that it was essential to give some powers to a central government for the greater good of the country.
Thus, came about the Articles of Confederation in 1781. This established a union between states that served as the foundation of the national government and legislature. While this was a step in the right direction to building a strong national government, it was not a tremendously effective step. Most political power still lied within the state governments. National government and Congress were feeble. Each state had a vote on virtually every matter. Therefore, often like today, different states’ opinions were so diverse that not much could be accomplished at the congressional level.
Eventually the problems that came along with a weak national government behooved delegates in Congress to take action. The Philadelphia Convention of 1787 was where that action took place. Their first thought was to amend the Articles of Confederation. Instead they introduced the idea of federalism. The Articles of Confederation were quickly abandoned. A new national government was formed that held judicial, executive, and stronger legislative power. The United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, the document that cemented federalism into our country’s existence.
While the federal government is much immensely stronger than it was during confederation, there are still short comings in our federalist system. Since the constitution has been written debate over national and state power still exists today. These quarrels exist because of how the constitution is written. While the constitution, as it is today, is an exemplary document that is the backbone of our country, it leaves a lot open to interpretation.
The responsibility of interpretation is in the hands of the judicial branch of the federal government. Which is an entity born in the development of federalism outlined in the constitution. I feel that this is a redundant delegation of power. The constitution strengthened the union of the states and the federal government. But, in my opinion it gave the federal government the right to have the bottom line say-so in most matters. A right the federal government can exercise whenever it sees fit. That is a significant imbalance of power in favor of the federal government that hangs over the heads of local powers. So, in question of whether government officials should be necessitated to uphold federal laws? In terms of the way the constitution is written and the power of the supreme court, yes, they should. Although, I think this system has its shortcomings. I feel that most of the interpretation of the constitution should remain with the people, or the closest level effectual. It would be uneconomical and intemperate to have the entire population voting on every matter regarding the balance of federalism and interpretation of the constitution. So local elected officials should have more influence in these matters. Local government officials should be required to act on the will of their constituents. That way when decisions are made, they will reflect the inclinations of the population effected.
The President or no one in the executive branch should be able to coerce state and local governments to carry out any federal law. The constitution is written in the spirit of federalism. That means the federal and state governments have specific powers which are outlined in the constitution.
Federalism in the United States has changed since it was introduced in the 1780’s. Since then, the United States has practiced two different types of federalism that have regulated our country’s political concept. The first one is dual federalism. Which means that the federal and state governments are equals. With this type of federalism, the sections of the Constitution that outline specific powers are interpreted very strictly. The Necessary and Proper Clause, the 10th Amendment, Commerce Clause, and the Supremacy Clause all grant explicit authority are interpreted narrowly. This also means that the federal government only has control over certain matters if the Constitution clearly states it. That leaves a big portion of power to the states and the federal government is restricted to only the powers plainly stated in the Constitution.
The second form of federalism is cooperative federalism. Which affirms that the federal government is supreme over the states. The Necessary and Proper Clause, the 10th Amendment, Commerce Clause, and the Supremacy Clause have an entirely different meaning with cooperative federalism. The wide interpretation of these sections of the Constitution is in favor of federal power. A big example is the Necessary and Proper Clause’s also known as the Elastic Clause.
Over time our country has shifted between both forms of federalism. With either form of federalism, the Constitution still gives some specific powers to both the states and the federal government. Those powers are mostly separated into three categories. They are reserved powers, granted powers, and concurrent powers.
Reserved powers are powers that are retained specifically for the states. For example, the authority to provide police forces, fire fighters, health regulations, education, and licensing. This is summarized in the Constitution saying, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” (US Const. amend. 10).
Granted powers, which are also called delegated, enumerated, inherent and implied powers are listed in Article 1, Section 8. They outline functions such as the power to produce money, raise a military, provide protection of patents and copyrights, establish postal offices, foreign relations, and the ability to declare war with other nations. An enumerated power is a power that is specifically listed in the constitution. Inherent powers carry out an enumerated power. For instance, Congress can create an army, which also means Congress has the capability to impose guidelines regarding who can serve in the army. Concurrent powers are possessed by federal and state governments. For example, both can impose taxes, have the power to construct and maintain roads, and develop programs for general welfare.
Federalism plays an important role when considering the debate of current issues. Topics such as immigration are very controversial subjects. Many local governments are not amenable with federal viewpoints or policies on these subjects. In recent times immigration is an issue that the federal government becoming more stringent about. The constitution does not specifically grant the federal government the responsibility of immigration regulation. In fact, the term “immigration” is not in the constitution at all. The constitution does afford the federal government the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations” and “to establish a uniform rule of naturalization” (US Const. article 1 sect. 8). This does not specifically delegate any jurisdiction over the control of the quantity or stipulations of migrants entering the United States. The elastic clause may be taken into consideration concerning this. It states that the federal government may “make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof” (US Const. article 1 sect. 8). That can be interpreted as the United States government can impose laws that do not violate the constitution that facilitates carrying out the duties assigned to them by the constitution. So, in a way, the elastic clause does not apply to the issue of immigration. Also, since the constitution does not specifically afford the federal government the right to govern immigration they do not constitutionally apply either. The way the constitution is written the United States government may only step in on immigration issue if it impairs their ability to carry out their constitutional duties. With that in mind, the concept of sanctuary cities is a current issue that exemplifies the aforementioned barrier of responsibility. A sanctuary city is “a city in the United States where illegal immigrants go to live when they do not have the legal right to do so and are not prosecuted” by the municipal government of that city (Cambridge Dictionary). Another definition is a municipal government that does not cooperation with the federal government’s effort to enforce immigration laws.
The first federal law enacted to control immigration was the page act of 1875. The act restricted Asian women from entering the United States and to end forced labor of Asian immigrants. Before this act only state governments made decisions about their borders at certain times. This was the first time the federal government intervened in immigration issues. This was also the first time in United States history that our borders were not completely open federally. Research shows that this action was taken because the federal government felt that illegal labor, prostitution, and undesirable behavior from a target group were threatening the country’s society. In 1882 the immigration act was. Thereafter, in following years up to the present, the federal government has enacted a number of policies to form federal control over immigration and outline guidelines of who would be disqualified from entry into the United States. It is up for debate whether all of these policies have been qualified to be backed by the necessary and proper clause.
State officials that advocate sanctuary cities should not be required to uphold any federal law on immigration that does not have constitutional backing from the elastic or necessary and proper clause. Which are laws of the federal government that need to be imposed to carry out its other constitutional duties. If that is not the case, then officials have the right to uphold the states policies they and their constituents find appropriate for the good of the local public. This would not be bucking the system or disregarding federal law. They would just be exercising their constitutional right under article 8 of the constitution as a state government official.
On the other hand, when immigration does cross the threshold of federal jurisdiction the federal government does have the power to step in. An example of this is if a sanctuary city has a large population of illegal immigrants that are not paying taxes but are working. Then that imposes on the federal government’s constitutional power to impose taxes. Another example is if immigrants were smuggling good across the border to sell. This falls in the federal government’s jurisdiction of the power “to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and among the several states” (US Const. article 1 sect. 8).
Other issues such as marijuana legalization challenges federalism as well. Several states have legalized marijuana for medicinal and recreational retail and use. This goes directly against the federal governments law on marijuana. Logically, it is appropriate to assume that one of the biggest explanations marijuana is federally illegal is because of economic reasons. It is not federally taxed, and it has been illegally imported for a long time. But federalism, in a sense, is what keeps the federal government from stepping in and punishing users that are in accordance with state law.
The balance between state and federal power is problematic at times during the past and present. The controversy that comes with the debate over the differences between federal and state policies can lead to confusion and division of the American people. Ideally if the federal government stuck to the rights it has under the constitution and did not abuse the necessary and proper clause that would solve some issues. Federalism should be black and white with minimal grey area. The separation of federal and state jurisdiction should be as clear and concise as possible.