Federalism in the 21st Century: Balancing National Unity and State Autonomy
1. Introduction
Throughout the course of human history, there has always been some form of federalism. In the creation of the modern United States of America, our founding fathers drafted a Constitution that would ensure that federalism was the cornerstone of the new nation. The great debate surrounding federalism is in deciding what areas in which the federal government will have complete control over and in what areas the individual state governments will have independent authority. This relationship of divided power, as we know it, is known as federalism and was one of the greatest compromises in the early years of our nation. Today, as we enter into an increasingly complex international system, the concept of federalism has and will continue to become a transforming element of our global society. We are fortunate to live in such an advanced and complex age and there are many views, options, and predictions about the future path of global development. As many great thinkers have come to understand over the centuries, the best way to understand the future is to first look at the past. By analyzing the historical development of federalism and acknowledging the impacts of modern international trends, we can accurately predict the form and function of global technologies. This research essay will seek to explore the significance of federalism in the 21st century, including the challenges and opportunities. I will also discuss various strategies for balancing national unity and state autonomy, including cooperative federalism, devolution, intergovernmental relations, and constitutional kinds of federalism and provides that the Constitution will be the supreme law of the land.
1.1 Background of Federalism
The “Background of Federalism” section should provide historical information about the origins of federalism. Federalism had been introduced in the United States during the 18th century by the Founding Fathers. The Founding Fathers were highly skeptical about the central authority, and they argued that to avoid dictatorship and protect individual freedom, there was a need to divide the power of the government. Thus, they developed federalism as a way to protect their sovereignty or in other words, the power of the separate states to self-govern in a modern system. The first change to the Constitution in the United States in 1791 is referred to as the first “federal experiment”. It reinforced the supremacy of the states, and it helped the federalism and anti-federalist in the long run. Later on, based on the demand of the time and the international environment, different forms of federalism had been developed. For example, during the civil war, the federal government power was increased and the concept of dual federalism was developed. After the civil war, the federal government began to take new powers, and the relationship between the states and the federal government transformed into a cooperative manner. This form of federalism is practiced in different eras and characterized as “marble cake” federalism. Therefore, understanding the history of federalism can help us to form a better understanding about the strengths and weaknesses in a federalist system, thus recognizing its significance in the 21st century.
1.2 Significance of Federalism in the 21st Century
It is important to examine the significance of federalism in the 21st century, as it has endured as the cornerstone of the American political system for over two centuries. Federalism is not just a matter of academic interest, but a crucial concept in shaping the course of politics and policy-making in the United States. Its significance in the current century can be best understood by exploring the purposes and benefits of federalism for modern American society. With increasing globalization and interconnection among countries, federalism has become essential in addressing various global problems. By allowing different states to engage in policy experimentation and innovation, federalism can facilitate the adaptation of new solutions quickly to new challenges or circumstances. Also, federalism principles such as decentralization and diversity can offer a potent antidote to the politics of fear and resentment. In many societies, including the United States, the forces of globalization and technological changes have generated social dislocation and economic insecurity, leading to the rise of populism and nationalism. In the face of the challenges to the existing world order and the increasing societal divide, strengthening federalism systems can promote social and political stability. Federalism provides a compromise between the advantages of government and the need for independence on the local level. With the fear of centralization and the reigning power of the majority decreased, more parties could have a say in what the government does in the modern world. This is especially important in an era where more diverse opinions should be valued as society progresses. Moreover, more opportunities can be created for different types of governments to participate in political power, as responsibilities will be divided and granted to as many places as possible. This would help to further prevent tyranny and also ensure that a local government would be most efficient in attending to local needs and happiness. All these benefits of federalism translate into the protections of modern American society. For example, ongoing environmental concerns can be more effectively addressed under a federal system. As seen from the recent withdrawal of the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, a multinational agreement to combat global climate change, the decision provoked a widespread negative response. However, numerous American cities have vowed to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement even without federal leadership. Such remarkable actions by local governments illustrate federalism’s ability in furnishing multiple avenues of policy innovation and implementation. In this case, federalism system so far has served as a considerable obstacle for the current president to transpose the isolationist agenda into actionable policies. In fact, the withdrawal strategy proposed is expected to take several years, during which new solutions might emerge and currents ones might gain sufficiency.
1.3 Purpose of the Research Essay
In this section, you will find the purpose of the entire research essay comes down to the writer’s interest towards the federalism approach based on the historical and the theoretical references. According to the writer of this essay, the main purpose of this essay is to critically evaluate both positive and negative influences of federalism on the US political environment. He then explains that he aims to focus on “decisions, actions and policies of states and regional governments more than the national political process – all the while keeping a watchful critical eye on just how much of that influence is really autonomous”. He further confirms his research and consideration about the significance of federalism and how it has shaped the country so far. With that intention, the writer introduces the readers with the historical concept and structure of federalism at the very start of the essay in order to let the readers familiarize with the argument and the discussion-flow. By doing so, the readers can have a systematic insight of what the federalism is and how it has been developed as time goes by. The writer also repeatedly indicates that he will focus on the ‘complex intergovernmental relationships’ and the ‘autonomy’ of the states. Last but not least, the writer professes that he has been doubted with the genuine influences of US federalism on state politics and he also shown his curiosity to find out the authenticity of the concept of ‘state autonomy’. This helps to arouse the reader’s curiosity and give them a little clue of what they are going to explore next. He believes that through the critical analysis of the political environment, we can come to a better judgment on the nature of federalism which is a flexible and an adapting doctrine. Given that, the paragraph ends with the writer’s insight and it makes a good transition to the first topic sentence in the next paragraph. This is a solid example of well-structured and well-thought writing plan that guides the readers through the next passage.
2. Historical Perspective of Federalism
Federalism in the United States is a complex and ever-changing system of government. It has been the political and moral basis for the many interactions between the state and the federal governments. The federal principle was considered flexible and practical, because in the beginning it served to strengthen the nation of the thirteen colonies, and later the United States. This is not to say that the federal government stayed invented. In fact, federalism in America has changed and evolved over a number of periods that correlated to the type of expansion that was of the greatest importance and consequence at the time. The political independence allowed many states to experiment with different forms of government. As King suggests, even before the federal constitution was formed, American leaders have recognized the potential utility of a federal system. For example, John Dickinson, in his second draft of the Articles of Confederation written in 1776, asserted that “the articles of this confederation shall be inviolably observed by every state, and the union shall be perpetual; nor shall any alteration at any time hereafter be made in any of them; unless such alteration be agreed to in a congress of the United States, and be afterwards confirmed by the legislatures of every state”. Dickinson was referring to the creation of what is now considered the oldest written constitution still in use in the world today, by which America has upheld.
2.1 Origins of Federalism
Federalism, as a type of government, became more famous throughout the nineteenth century, during a period of helpful political change. The early American political scene was pervaded by worries about governmental issues that centered around how power and representation were to be portioned among various levels of government. The formative years of federalism saw many political savants expressing fears about the issues that federalist governments could experience. Nevertheless, the way that these cases were being examined in the public space was a sign that federalist ideas were spreading as a popular kind of purposeful anecdote. Essentially, federalism reflects the beginning of a political idea. In fact, several very specific original US individual states precede the establishment of the country, governments established within the historical context of United States Federalism. Redistributions of state power are a difficult process, not only because a state has the self-governance to make its own decisions, but also because this very process embodies everything that is both controversial and complicated within the principle of federalism. Additionally, if, as in the US, a reshaping of the boundaries of power between state and local government is attempted under a centralized government, then state constitutions will also have to accommodate and facilitate this redistribution. Not only do these foundational documents have their own process for amendment, their amendments are generally done through special majority voting, statewide referendum, and political struggle. Such changes reflect the original assembly and demonstrate the tenacity of federalist principles in many areas of the United States. Due to significant drivers like globalization, state obliteration, and the compression of global systems into a fully connected world, it has begun to be argued that geographically governed states worldwide may be obsolete. Additionally, it explores the challenges and opportunities facing federalism in the 21st century due to globalization, technological advancements, economic interdependence, and environmental concerns. It also delves into strategies for achieving a balance between national unity and state autonomy, such as cooperative federalism, devolution, intergovernmental relations, and constitutional reforms.
2.2 Evolution of Federalism in the United States
In response to the friction between the states and the federal government, the United States moved from a dual federalism to the modern cooperative form. The Supreme Court encouraged this evolution by pioneering the legal principles that led to a stronger national government. For example, in McCulloch v. Maryland in 1819, the Court ruled in favor of the nation around the idea of implied powers by upholding the creation of a national bank despite the lack of specific Constitutional language allowing it. Similarly, in Gibbons v. Ogden in 1824, the Court validated the supremacy of the national government in regulating interstate commerce. Then, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln invoked his power as Commander-in-Chief and broadened the authority of the federal government as a reaction to the national emergency, laying the groundwork for further expansion of federal power. The pendulum swung back to ultimately favor national interests in 1913 as a result of a constitutional amendment with the institution of the direct election of senators, removing yet another state stronghold on federal policy. Concurrently in 1937, after over a decade of nullification from the states and obstruction from the Supreme Court, the case of National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation affirmed Congress’ broad power when it comes to regulating commerce under the Commerce Clause. After the New Deal, dual federalism quickly gave way to cooperative federalism, and the trend has continued throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century. The national government increasingly took on a leading role in identifying and addressing policy priorities and implementation by using federal grants. These efforts to combat national issues such as poverty, education reform, and transportation saw the rise of deepening federal authority and programs. Simultaneously, while the states too enjoyed reciprocal powers and responsibilities, they began to recognize that cooperation with the national government was increasingly beneficial. This paradigm, with its emphasis on intergovernmental cooperation in the interest of the public, has moved so far in the direction of the nation that the states are now sometimes considered mere administrative extensions of the federal government. The Supreme Court has minimized the rights of the states and their latitude for independent action under modern interpretations of the Commerce and Supremacy Clauses in decisions like Gonzales v. Raich in 2005. Modern cooperative federalism, also known as fiscal federalism, aims to strike a better equilibrium with national and state powers. With state budgets under constant pressure, in part due to national economic struggles and other macroeconomic policies like the Affordable Care Act, the federal government can use grants as a way to facilitate policy cooperation. This fiscal dependence on the national government forces state and local leaders to pay more attention to federal directives and strategic interests – even if it comes at the loss of state innovation and responsiveness.
2.3 Comparative Analysis of Federalism Models
To begin to understand what works and what does not work in a federal system, it is useful to think about different models of how federalism can function. A few federal nations, such as the United States and India, have a very decentralized form of federalism, where the individual states have a large degree of autonomy. By contrast, there is what can be thought of as a very centralized form of federalism in countries like Belgium and South Africa, in which the regions or states have significantly less power and authority compared to the center. Then there are what are known as “coming together” federal states like the United States and Australia, and “holding together” federal states like India and Belgium. In theory, comparative politics provides a useful method of understanding the potential strengths and weaknesses of different federal models. By closely studying and scrutinizing how and why certain models are preferable in different environments, researchers are able to make informed recommendations about what might be an appropriate way to approach federalism in a given country. However, this is not always easy. Although we can classify countries as having very centralized, decentralized, “coming together” or “holding together” forms of federalism, in practice nations can have a wide variety of federal relationships between their constituent parts and central government. And even countries with a similar style of federalism may have very different governmental and political cultures that lead to that system functioning in diverse ways. So it is risky to suggest that one model of federalism is definitely better than another. It depends on a variety of factors, such as history, culture, economic development, and geography. Even within a particular country or nation, the dynamic nature of politics and government means that the success of a particular federal model may shift over time.
3. Challenges and Opportunities in the 21st Century
Kettl (2019) argues that “the competitive federalism that serves as the engine of the exceptional American outcome is the most powerful provider of progress in the knowledge economy” and that the United States is better able to manage modern challenges because the nation matches “national election of government with the state and local level delivery of public services and the bulk of policy innovation” (p. 311). However, as with any modern government, there are a number of challenges and opportunities facing federalism in the 21st century. One of the biggest challenges is the interconnection of the global economy, with both goods and services being traded more easily between various countries (Kettl, 2019). As a result, Kettl (2019) argues that individual states may not have as much control over their own economic policies, as what happens in another part of the world can have a big impact on the U.S. economy. This reflects, as Wood (2019) notes, “the new challenge…[of] globalization”. This is just one of the many challenges; not everyone agrees on the same opportunities or challenges that the modern developments in politics and technology present to federalism. For example, Yu and Robinson (2019) believe that the “age of ‘new federalism’ and the current nature of policy implementation serves as a catalyst”, yet Rutledge et al. (2019) argue that “non-majoritarian forces are shaping policy making in increasingly significant ways”. The academic literature is focused on two fundamental principles: that there are increasing opportunities to better manage through the modern information age and that a major challenge lies in the disjuncture between the old constitutional order and the new social and political realities (Kettl, 2019). By understanding these main two driving forces, students and policy makers can start to unpick the varying modern opinions and the development of new theories that seek to engage with the multitude of emerging issues in federalism today.
3.1 Globalization and its Impact on Federalism
Also, the increasing movement of peoples and the ‘borderless’ nature of the global economy has led to a divergence between national and sub-national policies in an array of areas. For instance, immigration and law and order have become policy areas of almost exclusive national concern, at the expense of sub-national discretion. Additionally, the fact that globalization has meant that no nation is now an ‘island’, in either the literal or metaphorical sense, with both internal and external policies necessarily taking on a cross-border dimension, has further emboldened the case for greater centralization of power within federal states. The ability of any one state, or collection of states, to gain any meaningful advantage by adopting a distinct or ‘separatist’ policy becomes eroded in the context of an increasingly interdependent, open world.
The most tangible effect of globalization upon federalism can be seen through the increasing interdependence of economies. As a result of technology and policy changes, the level of cross-border trade in many federal countries has increased dramatically. For example, the ‘average annual growth in the export trade volume of Canadian provinces and American states between 1989 and 1994 was around 6.6%, compared to only 4.4% for those countries generally over the same period’ (Bakvis and Skogstad, 2003). This has resulted in calls for the devolution of greater trade powers to the various sub-national governments in federal states in order to enable them to be more flexible and responsive to the needs of an increasingly globalized economy. Such a trend can also be seen in the European Union, where the Commission has sought to increase the influence of the supranational institutions in trade policy, thereby encroaching on the previously well-guarded competence of the Member States in this area.
The emergence of globalization as a significant force shaping domestic policies of states has led to shifts in the very nature of federalism. Globalization in the broadest sense can be understood as a process that is ‘characterized by the growth of trans-world connections as a result of the rapid developments in communication and transportation technologies that have been accompanied by the increasing informization of society and its economic life’ (Scholte, 2000). The impacts of globalization on federalism are multi-faceted and operate at many levels of government, and are not purely confined to changes in relation to the division of powers ensconced within a federal constitution.
3.2 Technological Advancements and Federalism
The development and utilization of advanced technologies – such as the internet, the cloud, blockchain technology, and big data – have played a significant role in promoting the efficiency and effectiveness of federalism in the 21st century. Firstly, technology has made it much easier for different levels of government to share information and coordinate policies amongst themselves. This has brought about a distinct shift from the traditional ‘layer cake’ model of federalism – where power and authority are clearly divided between the various layers of government – to a more dynamic and flexible form of ‘marble cake federalism’ that emphasizes intergovernmental cooperation and consultation. Indeed, contemporary federal governments across the globe have made use of various technological tools, such as online databases and digital policy platforms, to facilitate collaboration among federal, state, and local authorities. An example of this trend is the establishment of the National Association of Chief Information Officers in the United States to enhance information sharing and knowledge management practices amongst public sector IT professionals. A comparative analysis of federalism models is presented. Additionally, a comparative analysis of federalism models is presented. While the development of a more integrated and interdependent form of federalism may be beneficial in some respects, it also raises significant concerns about the protection of individual freedoms and the prevention of centralized abuses of power. Specifically, civil rights advocates argue that the increased reliance on technology-enhanced governance mechanisms may erode the historical role of the judiciary as an independent check on government authority. For instance, in a world where decisions about individual rights and liberties are increasingly made by centralized algorithms, there is a risk that citizens may become disenfranchised from the political process and that government accountability and transparency may be significantly compromised. Therefore, technological advancements raise important questions about how federal states can strike a balance between utilizing innovative solutions to promote effective governance and protecting the traditional constitutional safeguards designed to prevent the undue concentration of power.
3.3 Economic Interdependence and Federalism
In essence, economic interdependence refers to the mutual reliance that the economic actors of various jurisdictional levels of government will have upon one another. It is a natural by-product of the globalized world in which different subnational government levels are increasingly specializing in certain economic sectors to remain competitive. Given that the economy is no longer strictly local and resources are often unevenly distributed across the various regions of a country, economic interdependence has become a key feature and challenge for federal systems the world over. In the United States, for example, the subnational governments have the power to regulate and fund education and throughout the 20th century, the federal and state governments have engaged in a complex and constantly evolving system of shared governance, especially in terms of funding. However, with economic interdependence becoming a defining feature of state and federal interactions, questions are emerging as to how effectively the constitutional balance of power in regards to state and federal economic regulation adequately accounts for the modern forces of globalization and economic specialization. For example, recent years have seen the rise of nationwide economic difficulties as certain industries struggle. Many have criticized the current balance of power whereby state governments have a lot of autonomy in regulating and funding local education but the federal government essentially dictates the main terms of economic policy and regulation. This apparent dichotomy has led to debate over the effectiveness of the current federal model in the face of economic interdependence; is more state-focused governance a reliable solution to the problems that economic interdependence causes or should federal power be more effectively centralized to reflect the current realities of the American economy? Notably, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which gives the federal government broad powers to oversee and regulate interstate economic activities, as a key source of federal authority in economic regulation. This means that as the American economy becomes more and more intertwined between the states, it is likely that federal power will become more extensive.
3.4 Environmental Concerns and Federalism
An unusual but significant issue facing federalism is environmental protection and resource management. When the modern concept of federalism was founded in the United States, it was not envisioned that the federal government would have any role in protecting the physical environment. At that time, the physical environment was seen as something that was local in nature, it existed within state boundaries and there were no interests of the United States as a whole which would give rise to a national interest in protecting it. Not until 1970, when President Nixon and Congress established the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the purpose of protecting the environment and regulating industries, was the issue of the protection of the physical environment deemed to involve federal interests that could be vindicated under the Constitution. The Supreme Court pronounced in dicta that the EPA cannot make any decision that overrides states’ environmental interests without overseeing and reporting to the executive agencies before we can get certainty on what can be done to control the EPA trend. That means if the EPA abolishes any states’ right regulation, then a case is certainly to be brought to the judiciary. Many may tend to argue, stating that the environment has constantly been politicized and federalization will continue to shift power from states to the federal government. Students are motivated to question the faculty and discuss ways that federalism could better serve the need to address nationwide environmental policies. This legal analysis is significant because it underscored the principle that, in matters of law, we should begin with first principles and the critical analysis of the Constitution based upon those principles. Upper level students with the opportunity to analyze the development of the federal government’s interests and power in protecting the physical environment from its historical origins to the present day and question whether such a transfer of power was consistent with the Constitution’s enumeration of federal powers. In conclusion, environmental federalism is an evolving process which may involve shifts in power between state and federal governments as circumstances and attitudes change. Students have an opportunity to teach one another and there is the potential for collaborative work that can engage and challenge students, allowing for a higher level learning experience.
4. Strategies for Balancing National Unity and State Autonomy
To balance national unity and state autonomy under the federal system, the first and foremost strategy – cooperative federalism – can be adopted. The proponents of cooperative federalism argue that the state and national governments must work together in order to successfully tackle complex domestic challenges, problems that neither level of government can solve alone. The main idea behind cooperative federalism is that it’s not about the distribution of power between the national and state governments but instead it’s more about the levels of government sharing power and responsibilities. In practice, elected officials and administrators at both the state and national levels work together in the process of deciding what policies are to be adopted and how they will be implemented. In addition to that, different kinds of grants and aids are given by the national government to the state governments to encourage them to work for common goods. However, cooperative federalism is often criticized that the policy process is far from either cooperative or orderly. In reality, give-and-take among politicians, agencies, and interest groups at the state and national levels is more like a competitive conflict for resources than a substantive process of cooperation. Such criticisms argue that state and local governments are becoming more and more like administrative arms of the national government, as the federal government provides more and more grants-in-aid to the states and imposes national conditions and standards in return. As a result, the idea of federalism as a practice of cooperation, as well as a sharing of powers among levels of government, is eroded. On the other hand, the defenders of cooperative federalism argue that grants and aids from the national government and the national conditions and standards reflect and enhance the processes of cooperation, by offering both the resources and the guidelines for shared policy endeavors. Besides, the supporters also point out that effective national government is essential for the protection of the people and therefore, the fulfillment of the purposes of federalism. For example, the Supreme Court, in its decision of the case Massachusetts v. Mellon in 1923, states that the power to spend money is a basic federal power and that such power is allocated to the Congress, which can impose reasonable conditions on grants of money to the states. Therefore, the role of the states in the federal system must be subject to the welfare and benefits of the nation as a whole. In conclusion, the effectiveness of cooperative federalism – helping the nation to deal with many complex domestic challenges – very much depends on to what extent different levels of the government are engaged in a process of shared policy endeavors. Only if the policy-making process reflects and enhances such a practice of cooperation – not domination – then cooperative federalism would work.
4.1 Cooperative Federalism and its Effectiveness
The notion that this form of federalism brings a positive outcome in contemporary federalism is somewhat misleading. Despite the widespread use of cooperative federalism, the effectiveness of this approach is arguable. Advocates of cooperative federalism in the early periods of federalism such as D. C. Wirt and David B. Walker believed it could provide a solution to maintain the national union and still cater for state diversity and independence given the increasing complexity in the governance system. However, based on real examples and case studies, this form of federalism appears to be more successful sometimes and less successful other times. Theoretically, in order to justify the use of this approach, it is critical to prove that cooperative federalism can achieve the desirable goals of federalism, that is, balancing national unity and state autonomy. However, in reality, the implementations of cooperative federalism seem to blur the boundaries between the roles and powers of the different levels of government rather than strengthening the distinction and dependence of the different governance actually intended. In the meantime, some flexibility has been given to the states under cooperative federalism; however, the actual degree of state autonomy under this approach is very limited compared to coercive federalism. Federalism in the 21st Century: Balancing National Unity and State Autonomy.
4.2 Devolution and its Implications
The devolution refers to the increased delegation of administrative and policymaking authority to the state and local governments. It has been seen as a political and administrative process whereby the power and authority are decentralized from the national government to the state government. Devolution has both positive and negative implications; however, proponents of devolution argue that it allows for policies that are more responsive to the state and local needs and preferences. According to Prindle, “devolution ends the over-dependence of state bureaucracies on the national government and alleviates intergovernmental conflict”. For instance, state and local governments can be allowed to experiment with new policies and if the policies fail, the failures are confined within the limited jurisdiction of the localities and they cannot affect the whole nation. However, even though there is a range of advantages, devolution has its adverse implications. An “unevenness” in the argument and practice of federalism might emerge. For instance, “while the replications of power are well understood, the balance of power and the allocation of resources often are the underlying causes of dispute”. Such conflicts can lead to the undermining of “federal authority, the intrusion of states into local affairs, and the inefficiency of local decision making”. Another negative impact of devolution is more political in nature, whereas some programs are seen as “too politically risky or that take place in too small a jurisdiction to be attended to by intergovernmental cooperation”. Devolution in the United States has been a gradual process. It can be traced back to Lyndon B. Johnson and the Great Society programs. However, significant progress of devolution can be seen during President Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush’s terms, where both administrations have attempted to improve federalism by introducing a variety of devolution programs. Bush’s Administration is particularly famous for its “No Child Left Behind” policy, which mandates more control and flexibility over the spending of federal education grants to the local authorities. Not only that, there was a clear trend that during the 1980s, Republican administrations tend to put more emphasis on devolution, while Democratic Presidency such as President Bill Clinton maintain a more stabilized state of federalism and concentrated on the aspects of intergovernmental cooperation. As a matter of fact, states were frequently encouraged to experiment in the development of new and innovative approaches in solving social problems with minimal federal intrusion. In the light of terrorism, devolution has once again surfaced on the ground in fighting against the terrorist attacks. Federalism in the form of a strategy had been well received. In the words of General Ashcroft, “For too many years, the Department of Justice where many of the principle functions with respect to national defense of other areas were revealed had been largely insufficient in communication. The essence of federalism is that the division of power has allowed ‘the proper balance between the national and the state authority to form and that that balance is vitally important to the freedom of the countries. This was the first time that I think we were able to see all 44 agencies working together, sharing information, cooperating, developing plans to make America safe and secure… and most state and local law enforcement agencies understand and appreciate the concept of federalism. You know, that the cooperation that has been developed both horizontally, between state and local, and vertically, between the federal and state and local law enforcement is unprecedented, and the relationships that are being developed will help us to defend America against terrorists.”
4.3 Intergovernmental Relations and Collaboration
Actions against states which refuse to abide by federal terms have been further limited by the Court’s decision in the case of National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius. In the Judgement, Chief Justice Roberts emphasized that the Constitution has never given Congress the power to require people to buy insurance. Such federal action in the form of conditioning all Medicaid grants on unreasonable terms without offering any other choices is considered as violating the protection of states’ rights. He said by expanding Medicaid pursuant to the act, New York State “would have to cover 100 percent of the costs for the first three years and then 90 percent thereafter”. Such financial burdens that come with the Medicaid expansion seem to be a “gun to the head” which impermissibly coerce states into compliance. The Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for federal government to withdraw all Medicaid grants just because a state chooses not to participate in the expansion, questioning the fairness of such federal actions.
Federal governments usually influence states through the attach of conditions to grants more commonly known as conditional preemptions according to the US Supreme Court case Dole. However, the case raised the question of whether such method of intergovernmental relation is constitutional because although Congress has the power to attach conditions to grants as a means to encourage a state to adopt certain regulations or policies, the Tenth Amendment also set limits to its ability to interfere with state legislative and executive functions.
Last but not least, there is a financial resource tension. As will be discussed in more details in the next part about fiscal federalism, financial resource allocation is always a very sensitive issue in intergovernmental relations. Federal mandates in terms of national programs often require state governments to provide matching funds. But the actual contribution level differs greatly among different states, leading to potential disparity in policy coverage and public service provisions.
The second form of tension lies in the operational aspect of governance. Due to the sheer size of the US and the heterogeneity of American society, effective and uniform implementation of federal laws and policies across all states cannot be taken for granted. As such, disputes often arise as to who has the final say in the implementation process. In the most extreme situations, tension may lead to federal intervention against the will of state governments.
First, there is a functional tension of policy goals between different levels of governments. In many cases, state and federal governments hold different views on what the ultimate policy goals should be. Take healthcare reform as an example. While Obamacare has greatly expanded health care access in the US, some state governments, such as Texas and Florida, remain skeptical of the benefits of such a federal measure.
The requirement for a high level of intergovernmental relations and collaboration can be demanding and challenging in practice. This is due to the fact that the federal system in the US is composed of complex, overlapping and many segmented fields of authority. As the distribution of power and responsibilities in the federal system is not always clear and certain, there are consistently three forms of tensions in intergovernmental relations.
Intergovernmental relations and collaboration serve as the foundation for smooth and efficient operation of federalism in the United States. This is because most of the key federal policies and programs are administered by the states. In fact, it is estimated that states operate over 95 percent of federal programs. As a result, state governments have substantial freedom and power to design and implement most public policies and programs at the state level. However, these authorities are not absolute. Decisions made by state governments have to be within the scope of the US Constitution and must be consistent with the overarching objectives of the federal government. Therefore, close working relationships among federal, state, and local governments are required.
4.4 Constitutional Reforms for Modern Federalism
The Constitution in its current form does not reflect the needs of modern federalism. Rupare and Vile (2010) note that the powers of the states, intended to be protected by the Constitution, have evolved over several judicial reinterpretations. Certain Constitutional hardwiring renders state laws unconstitutional if they conflict with federal laws, and amendments to the Constitution are difficult to initiate and pass, creating a perpetually rigid guideline for federal and state relations. Accordingly, Rupare and Vile advocate the requirement for greater state sovereignty in the Constitution. They pose that one of the most effective ways to implement modernization of the Constitution is by amending the interstate commerce clause, Article 1, Sec 8, Clause 3. Rupare and Vile remark that an overwhelming majority of state laws have been nullified by federal laws under the guise of interstate commerce. In ‘Understanding Federalism and Federalization’, author Earl M. Maltz critiques the impact of the necessary and proper clause, Article 1, Sec 8, on the modern federalism landscape. He opines that the clause has allowed ‘expansive powers to congress’, inadvertently shrinking the authority of state law makers. Maltz thus proposes that the modern interpretation of the clause should reflect limits ‘based on a reasonable relationship with legitimate national interests.’ With a more restrictive reading, state laws may prevail unless Congress shows a considerable federal interest that bears a rational nexus with the regulation. This would re-balance between federal and state laws, and provide judicial mandate to scrutinize ‘scope of congressional exigency.’ Rupare and Vile suggest that the amendment process is suitable for significant modernization of the Constitution. However, the obstacles to initiating formal amendments in state and federal levels, particularly the requirement of a two-thirds majority in both the House and Congress, renders it a difficult process. Maltz too notes that history has proven the unlikely nature of amendments, and thus constitutional reforms, in practice, is often the preserve of the Supreme Court’s interpretive authority. His critique of the necessary and proper clause demonstrates the alternative approaches to modernization, not necessarily reliant on a legislative amendment to the Constitution.

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