PSCI 110 Podcast 03 – Federalism
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PSCI 110 Podcast 03 – Federalism


Hi and welcome to Podcast 3. We’re in week 2 now…
we’re going to talk about Federalism today. So in the last couple podcasts we
talked about what government is… different forms of democracy….
We’ve talked about how the US Constitution came about, and gave structure and rules to our form
of government. But the next step is deciding what rules
are going to apply to dividing power between the states and specifically the state governments
and the Federal Government. And that’s what federalism is all about;
federalism is a system in which the powers are both the national
government and the sub-national units – – the states – are specified and limited.
That’s how your book defines it. But we have this system because,
you’ll remember, the Constitution was this giant compromise
and in order to get the states to ratify it, concessions had to be made in keeping some state sovereignty and power. So you can see that the system of checks
and balances that I described last time we have that in the Constitution, of course,
for the three internal branches: the Legislative, the Executive,
and the Judiciary… but we also have some checks on the power that resides in the state
and federal governments. And that’s all in the name of making sure
that power’s not concentrated in one place… that’s kind of an overriding goal
of the Constitution. But this document… it’s a very terse and short document,
as you see from reading it. So it doesn’t go into detail on a lot of things, and while it does state
that some powers are specifically given to the Federal Government, many times it has clauses that are
supposed to cover very broad categories of powers. And of course, these are always open to interpretation… and that’s where the
Supreme Court comes in, or other federal courts.
They’re there to make the final decisions on that interpretation…
they define the boundaries of federalism, and your book
goes into a lot a different cases that are important
in defining those boundaries. So often states and the Federal
Government will share powers. These are called concurrent powers. But the the Constitution is very smart,
I think, about trying to cover all the bases with these broad-base clauses that I mention.
Let me give you a a few examples. Article 1, Section 8 you have specific powers that are
expressly given to the national government, so that’s why
they call them expressed powers. But it also includes this interesting clause call the
“Necessary and Proper Clause” which provides that Congress can make laws
that are needed to carry out the expressed powers. So, if you can
think about that, it’s really expanding the number of powers
infinitely by saying: well, you have these number of powers,
but you have all the other powers that you need to carry out and enforce
those powers. That’s quite an expansion. So take a look at that Article 1 Section 8.
Get a sense of how that works. Then you look at
the next section – Section 9… it goes into what the national
government is prohibited from doing. And Section 10 covers what the
states are prohibited from doing. So, the Constitution both expresses what
powers it wants the governments to have, but also which powers it doesn’t
want them to exercise. And the 10th Amendment course,
this is part of the Bill of Rights, which we mentioned before,
is the main explicit source of state powers, and it says and I’m quoting, “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.” In other words, everything that we haven’t
covered in this document – this short document – and we haven’t prohibited the states from doing, the states get it…
so it’s quite a concession to state sovereignty and power. Basically
everything else that you don’t see in here goes to the states. It’s not quite as
simple as that, but that’s what the Amendment says. Another clause that you guys should know
is the Supremacy Clause. This is in Article 6.
Now this states that when you have a conflict between
the laws of the states and the laws of the federal government, it’s the
federal government that prevails. That’s where the “supremacy” comes in…
the federal level is supreme. So it says, “This Constitution and the
laws the United States “shall be made in pursuance thereof.
and all treaties made “or which shall be made under the
authority of the United States “shall be the supreme law of the land.” So it goes on and on, but that’s really
important – the federal government trumps the state government. That wasn’t
always… it may be clear now, but that wasn’t always very clear until it was stated there in the 10th Amendment. So, as you can kinda figure out by now,
federalism it can be very confusing even to those who are experts in this
and are in politics because the nature of these concurrent powers, and the reach of the national government
really changes depending on how the Supreme Court decides to interpret the Constitution
in a particular decade or or maybe what the political climate is
that affects those courts. For example, your book talks about
an era of “cooperative federalism” – refers to the welfare state the 1960s and 70s – as kind of a golden era for this type of federalism, in which the national government
cooperates with the states, or vice versa, to solve big policy issues with the big programs. Like, for instance, President Johnson’s
Great Society Program to tackle poverty. These didn’t always work
but they were certainly an example of cooperative federalism. But there are plenty of examples on the
other side, when the federal and state governments are at odds either because there are unfunded
federal mandates, in other words, something the federal
government wants the states to pay for but is unwilling to hand down taxpayer funds for that, or
maybe a state governor doesn’t agree with federal policy. Look at a how Obamacare has been implemented, or not implemented,
in the last few years… you have a number of Republican
governors who have optioned-out of some of the major policy changes made by the law,
so not all the states are really in sync on this,
even though it’s a national law. One of your videos mentions a type of
what I would call coercive federalism… Kind of the opposite of cooperative,
in which the federal government enforced a national drinking age of 21, which you guys are all familiar with,
and that came about because even though law enforcement would
be generally something kept for the states
– we call those police powers – but the federal government felt so
strongly about this that it threatened to withdraw highway funds
if each state did not comply with the national standard. And, of course
you can make an argument that it was important that you have a
national standard on this kind of policy, but that’s how the federal government
has enforced, or makes the states comply,
is through the through the pocketbook. So I think the best way to think of
federalism, if you’re confused about it, is an ongoing legal battle
played out in the courts between very powerful governments.
And I say governments, plural, because you really do have a lot of players here. It’s not
just the federal government and the states which you have 50 those governments…
the local governments – counties… cities…
they all get into this game. And in this battle, the federal government
usually wheels the most power because states, especially now, really depend on
it for large amounts of money. Your book refers to this as fiscal federalism, and you can read some the
definitions about how the federal government uses categorical
grants and block grants and all sorts of funding mechanisms to make happen
what they want to happen in the states. And the biggest decisions, though,
are usually made over state laws that challenge the boundaries of
federalism. So every so often you’ll have these laws that
usually get challenged in court, and thats the outcome of that decision
really is what defines the current state of federalism. Obamacare, which I mentioned before,
was recently one of those that came to the Supreme Court,
which upheld all the most important parts of the law,
but it did set some limits on what the federal government could
do under the Commerce Clause, which is often the clause the federal government
invokes in these cases. So take a look at that if you’re interested,
because these decisions sometimes affect future laws… we look back at the decisions and what was said in these decisions to
decide well, can we go that far next time? Another example is a 2006 case dealing
with Oregon’s Death with Dignity law. This was a pretty controversial
state law that allowed physician assisted suicide, and in this case… and had been passed by the voters
by direct democracy, by initiative, and the it was upheld by
the Supreme Court because the law was about regulating health and
doctors and it wasn’t about interstate commerce. So you see
that it often comes down to very specific points in each of these cases. It’s a fascinating process because
it happens very slowly, but each of these cases adds to the definition of what is a very fluid system. So, a few things for you to ponder
on your own… Remember that I’d like you to really
take the questions I give you here and think of your own…
discuss them with your roommate… it doesn’t have to be someone in the
class… with your family member… Give it some independent thought.
First here, I have: federalism is a huge player in civil rights cases.
For example, we could never have disassembled
the Jim Crow South unless we had this Supremacy Clause
saying that the national laws trump the state laws… that we can make
national laws like, say the Voting Rights Act, or the Civil Rights Act,
that prohibit the states from putting into place discriminatory laws.
It took long enough, but eventually, federalism won out there. But what about the civil rights debates
we have today, such as the the right to marry, which
some people believe is a civil right… other people do not define it that way.
But for a moment forget about the moral position you might have on gay marriage and I want you consider it from the
federalism point of view… that is, does this fall into the domain of states? Or is it a case like it was in the 1960s,
when Blacks were denied the right to vote? Is it comparable to that, where the
national government really had to step in… assert its supremacy… Or is it not that? Should we just allow
states and regions to decide on this important issue? So… second question is:
that I want you to think about state sovereignty in a different way. You’ve read about the era of the
Constitutional Convention when states had folks that were very different in their
culture and they had to travel long distances
say, just to get from Georgia to New York, when
there were only thirteen colonies… and you’re riding on horseback… so you can understand
that each of these states really did feel like their own country in that time… but consider now…
do you believe that there’s a cultural difference so stark now
that we really still need these state boundaries and strong state governments to assert say… the culture of California versus
the culture of Arizona… or the culture of Oregon…
or something like that? That’s an interesting question…
and I think you can go either way on it, but it’s something to to ponder. Alright.
Thanks! And I’ll see you next time!

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