Federalism in Action

  • The Constitution created a system of federalism in which the federal and state governments both operated at the same time, in the same place, and over the same people. But these two layers of government rarely overlapped.
  • dual federalism: A system in which power is clearly divided between federal and state governments. this system gave states a lot of power within their own borders but also allowed the federal government to direct the nation as a whole.
  • Because the federal and state governments operated separately from each other, it was possible for states to create laws that conflicted with federal laws. The authors of the Constitution anticipated this problem and wrote the supremacy clause as a solution.
  • supremacy clause-The clause in Article VI, paragraph 2, of the U.S. Constitution that states that the Constitution and federal laws made under it are the supreme law of the land. They overrule any state laws and state constitutions.,In practice, this means that if a state passes a law that conflicts with a federal law, the federal law overrules the state law. Similarly, state laws overrule local laws passed by cities or townships if there is a conflict.
  • The Constitution makes several promises to the states on behalf of the federal government. These constitutional provisions establish rules for how the states deal with each other, and reserve certain powers for state governments
  • the full faith and credit clause says that all states must recognize the laws, public records, court decisions of the other states. They cannot choose to ignore the laws of other states. This law guarantees that a person cannot avoid legal punishment from one state by simply moving away.
  • The tenth amendment- powers not given to the federal government are reserved for the states
  • supremacy clause- the federal government is superior to state governments
  • Even though the supremacy clause had defined federal laws as superior, many states challenged the federal government in court when conflicts arose.
  • Early in the history of the United States, the Supreme Court became the referee in these cases. If the rulings of lower courts were challenged, important cases would go before the Supreme Court for a final decision. The power for the Supreme Court to make judgments on these cases was not specified in the Constitution. However, in the early 19th century, Chief Justice John Marshall argued that this was an implied power of the Court.
  • Ever since, the Supreme Court has played a crucial role by deciding major cases in which state and federal laws conflict. Sometimes state laws are upheld, and other times they are deemed (unconstitutional-Contradicting the laws established by a constitution. This word is often used in reference to policies.)
  • Under John Marshall's leadership, the Supreme Court made several important decisions that helped define the relationship between the federal and state governments.
  • In 1810, the Court found for the first time that a state law was unconstitutional. In 1795, a dispute arose when the State of Georgia sold public land to private developers. It was soon discovered that many of the legislators who voted for the land to be sold had been bribed, and a year later the sales were repealed.
  • In the case of Fletcher v. Peck, the Supreme Court ruled that by repealing a law under which public land had been sold, the State of Georgia had violated the Constitution. When the state sold the land to developers — and those developers then sold it to investors — the sales were legal contracts. Article I, Section 10, of the Constitution states that no laws can be passed that interfere with contracts.
  • As a result of the precedent set by fletcher v. peck, the supreme court can find laws unconstitutional if they violate the constitution.
  • McCulloch v. Maryland: An 1819 Supreme Court case in which the Court upheld the power of the national government to establish a bank and denied the state of Maryland the power to tax a branch of that bank.The decision in this case set a precedent that state laws could not interfere with federal laws, which in turn expanded the power of the federal government. This bank placed a tax on banks that had not originated in the state.
  • The muCulloch V maryland ruling affected the power of the federal government , because the decision expanded the power of the federal government by finding that states could not pass laws that interfered with the laws of the federal government.
  • The system of dual federalism created by the U.S. Constitution remained in place for generations. Although the balance of federal and state power shifted, the responsibilities and actions of each level of government remained fairly separate.
  • Then, in the 1930s, a major economic crisis changed federalism in the United States. In response to the Great Depression, the federal government became more active in affairs once reserved for the states. The lines between federal and state powers blurred as the federal government played a larger role in funding and directing state governments. The resulting system became known as cooperative federalism .
  • cooperative federalism: A system in which the federal and state governments collaborate on national policies.
  • the federal government has become more powerful over time, especially as the system of cooperative federalism has evolved.
  • Since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution, the system of federalism in the United States has changed dramatically. The system of dual federalism, with well-defined separation between state and federal activity, has shifted to a system of cooperative federalism, in which activities between levels of government are blurred. The supremacy clause of the Constitution has allowed this shift, and the Supreme Court has played a major role in defining how American federalism operates.
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