Federalism Comparison Essay

This essay has a total of 2533 words and 9 pages.


Federalism Comparison





Diego Ochoa PSCI 499 5/29/00 Second Midterm The Constitution of the United States was
drafted at a time when our country was in dire need of many answers to political and
social questions. In addition to many other things, the drafters of the Constitution were
concerned with solidifying our central government and the Constitution was intended to
provide a solid structure from which our burgeoning nation could grow. The Constitution
gave explicit powers to the federal government and provided the states with the Tenth
Amendment which states ,”Powers not delegated to the United States, nor prohibited
to the states, are reserved to the states respectively…” Of the enumerated
powers given to the federal government by the Constitution, the interpretation of the
Commerce Clause as prescribed in Article I, section 8, has caused political and legal
controversy known to our nation. In part, Article I, section 8, gives Congress the power
to regulate commerce between states, with other nations and with Indian Tribes. Two
competing theories about federalism inform the political and legal debates that deal with
the Commerce Clause provided to the Congress by the Constitution. Dual Federalism, a
political theory that purports states rights, champions the view that federal and state
powers, as prescribed by the Constitution, are “mutually exclusive, conflicting, and
antagonistic.” (Ducat,p.271) This view suggests that the Constitution created dual
sovereigns and that both levels of government had their own responsibilities. In order to
understand what the legal ramification of dualist theory, one must first understand its
interpretations of the Constitution. The dualist approach requires an exact and strict
interpretation of the enumerated powers given to the national government by the
Constitution and rejects the idea that the Necessary and Proper Clause should be used to
enhance or augment the enumerated powers granted by the Constitution. Dual Federalism also
relies on the notion that in a court of law, the Tenth Amendment gives the states enough
support to declare unconstitutional any act of the national government that infringes on
the reserved powers given to the states. Cooperative Federalism provides an entirely
different view of the relationship between the federal and state governments. Federal
supremacy is the hallmark of this ideology. Supporters of the cooperative federalist view
prefer to employ a broad interpretation of the Constitution. The legal basis on which
cooperative federalism has been argued is threefold: (1) Enumerated powers (e.g. Commerce
Clause) should be interpreted in light of an expansive Necessary and Proper Clause (2) The
Supremacy Clause, as prescribed in Article 6, paragraph 2, gives federal actions supremacy
over state laws when made in pursuance of the Constitution and when they are made using
implied and enumerated powers (3) The Tenth Amendment does not give states the power to
contest federal laws. To suggest that that these two ideologies are contradictory is an
understatement. To understand which theory best identifies with the correct interpretation
of the Constitution, it is necessary to understand the circumstances that created the
necessity for a Constitution and the political circumstances that motivated decisions
contrary to the correct interpretation of the Constitution. The Constitution was drafted
as a response to the perils of the weak central government created by the Articles of
Confederation. The drafters instituted a system that was meant to empower the national
government to make laws. Furthermore, the Constitution reinforced the supremacy of the
national government by including the Necessary and Proper Clause. The Constitution merely
provided states with reserved powers, a distinction that suggests a passive rather than
active right. Supreme Court decisions that challenge the supremacy of the national
government, when an action by the national government is made in pursuance of the
Constitution, are merely attempts to curb the power of the national government and are
based on weak legal arguments. Ultimately, the theory that best reflects the needs of our
country at the time of the Constitutional Convention and still does now is that of
cooperative federalism. Gibbons v Ogden, 22 U.S. 1, illustrates perfectly the ideological
beliefs held by cooperative federalists. The case involves the issue of federal authority
versus state authority. New York State legislature passed a statute giving exclusive
rights to use steam vessels in its territory to two men who later received payment from
Ogden in order to have exclusivity to navigate a certain route. Thomas Gibbons sailed the
waters with a federal license and Ogden successfully petitioned the courts for an
injunction that would prohibit Gibbons from sailing the route. The Supreme Court made
several remarks in its reversal of the injunction that directly support the ideas behind
cooperative federalism. “It has been said that these powers (enumerated) ought to be
construed strictly…Congress is authorized to make all laws which shall be necessary
and proper…this limitation on the means which may be used is not extended to the
powers which are conferred; nor is there one sentence in the constitution…that
prescribes this rule. That narrow construction would cripple the government…we
cannot perceive the propriety of this strict construction, nor adopt
it.”(Ducat,pp.277-278) As evidenced by this statement, the decision rejected the
primary tenet of the dualist theory, which requires a strict reading of the Constitution.
The decision gave an expanded meaning to the word commerce, an issue that would gain
relevance in future cases (i.e. Lottery Case). The decision also cemented that completely
internal commerce, which does not affect other states, was an area reserved for the state
itself. This remark created a particularly pro-cooperative federalism effect. In order for
states to claim the right to regulate under the Tenth Amendment, it would be necessary for
the state to prove that the issue, whatever it may be, did not affect the commerce of
another state, a test that has proven difficult to pass. Meanwhile, the political effects
of the Gibbons v Ogden case was evident in subsequent decisions. One such example is that
of the United States v E.C. Knight Co. 156 U.S. 1. The case involved the Sherman Antitrust
Act, which intended to restrain monopolies. In this case, the United States argued that
the consolidation of 98% of all the sugar refined in America constituted a monopoly.
Seventy years after Gibbons v Ogden, the Supreme Court now led by dual federalists
erroneously, the began making it difficult for Congress to apply anti-trust laws. Prior to
this decision there was no legal precedent on national intervention in the area of
production. This case laid the foundation for future cases that would limit the
jurisdiction of the national government to areas of economic distribution. A strict
reading of the enumerated power given to Congress and an outright neglect of the Necessary
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