The American government is allocated both federal and state powers by the United States’ Constitution (Williams 40). According to Watts, Article Four of the Constitution outlines the suitable relationship that should exist between the states and between each state and the centralized government (119). These two governments, work together towards realizing their roles enshrined within the constitution for the benefit of the people of the United States (U.S). Article Six of the Constitution asserts the powers of the federal government under the supremacy clause, with the declaration that the Constitution and any laws that are passed under the constitution represent the “supreme Law of the Land” (Clark 91). According to the U.S Constitution, the national government holds power over the state government but both are required to work together for the common goal of benefiting the people of United States. However, there are instances that the laws formulated by the state governments come in contradiction to those of the national government and vice versa. The United States government has the mandate to serve its people under the guidance of the constitution, by exercising its powers in both the state and the federal government.
As disclosed by Wechsler, the state and federal government of the United States are different based on the powers given to them by the constitution (551). The federal government is given the powers to make and veto laws that are to be used by the citizens of the US The federal government also has the powers to oversee the national defense of the country to protect all its citizens under the jurisdiction of the United States government. The federal government has the power oversee foreign policy that involves the nation and representing the US to its trade partners and other countries in the world. Additionally, the federal government is given the power to enter into treaties, impose tariffs, and impeach officials. In addition, the federal government is responsible for the implementation and enforcing laws that include bankruptcy laws, patent and copyright laws, social security laws, and civil rights laws among many others. The state government also has power given to it by the constitution with the duties to cover all matters, as defined by the Tenth Amendment (Alstyne 780). The state governments have the powers to govern themselves differently, but the actions should not be in any way in contradiction with the constitution. The state is responsible for laws such as criminal cases, estate laws, real estate and property laws, business contracts, divorce, and family issues among other laws.
According to the Constitution of the United States, both the state and federal governments are required to have courts that are used as arms that enforce the passed laws (Solimine and Walker 221). There are different courts that are established by the state and national government, which, in turn, act independently on the laws of the arms of government that establish them to perform their mandates. The Supreme Court is the highest of the land that is established by the Constitution to make decisions that serve the interest of the United States. Since both the state and federal governments have their laws under the guidance of the constitution, often there are conflicting interpretations of the law between the two since the set laws can be reviewed, and it is allowed for by the constitution. The purpose of the law in any sovereign state is to protect the rights of the individual citizen (Brennan 494). There are powers that are shared by the state and federal governments such as the making and enforcing of laws, and as a result, some of the laws are often in contradiction with each other.
A common case of opposing laws between the states is the legislation on drinking age in the United States. While the federal government passed the bill to increase the drinking age to 21, some states chose not to comply since they had their laws that were satisfied with the people of their jurisdiction. The state laws of some states put the drinking age at eighteen despite the federal governments’ enactment to raise the legal drinking age of the country. In response to the states that chose not to comply, the federal government imposed its power by denying the states federal highway funds. Another case is the issue of same-sex marriage that was legal in some states while in others it was banned. There were state-level bans on same-sex marriages since they were seen to violate the constitution and went against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It was until the federal government legalized same-sex marriage since it was termed to violate the Fourteenth Amendment clauses on equal protection clauses, that most of the state governments adopted the same. Another subject of contention witnessed in recent times is the federal and state governments’ take on the use of marijuana. It is a federal offense to distribute or be in the possession of marijuana since the federal Controlled Substance Act classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance. However, some states allow for the use of marijuana under the clause that it is being used medically. Marijuana has been found to contain some medicinal properties, and thus, some states allow its use under the recommendation of a licensed physician.
The American government has been able to achieve federalism status as a result of the legally binding constitution. However, the U.S government has largely relied on cooperative federalism throughout the country’s history. Agranoff and McGuire point out that cooperative federalism acts as an interactive concept of federalism that involves the national, state, and local governments working together in policy making to solve common problems that affect its citizens (674). This form of federalism avoids the separate lawmaking and clashes over policy or the supremacy of the federal government in creating the policy for the country. According to the Tenth Amendment to the U.S Constitution that is part of the Bill of Rights, states that the federal government has the power that it derives from the constitution, while the powers that remain are reserved for the state government and the people. This definition gave the federal government power over the state government for purposes of serving the best interest of the country. However, it also provides power to the state to be able to make policy that serves the best interest of the people of America. On the other hand, the Fourteenth Amendment addresses the equality among all Americans and provides for the laws on citizenship rights (Fairman 93). The Fourteenth Amendment seeks to limit the actions of the state government that may come in interference with the constitution on matters that involve the American citizen, such as matters of citizenship, gender equality, and same-sex marriage among others.
In conclusion, the American federalism has made it possible for the U.S government to protect and serve its citizens under the guidance of the constitution through the exercising of its power within the state and federal governments. Despite the several contradictions that arise in performing their mandates, the United States’ cooperative federalism system has ensured that both these governments exist to work together towards achieving the same goal. However, the federal government has more power over the state government as most of the laws by the state government can be overturned by the federal government should it be in the interest of the nation. The federal government has the support of the Supreme Court that is the highest court of the land created by the constitution. American federalism is an example of the benefit of having a federal system of government that works towards benefiting and protecting its citizens and the country.
Agranoff, Robert, and Michael McGuire. “American Federalism and the Search for Models of Management.” Public Administration Review, vol. 61, no. 6, 2001, pp. 671-681.
Alstyne, William Van. “Federalism, Congress, the States and the Tenth Amendment: Adrift in the Cellophane Sea.” Duke Law Journal, no. 5, 1987, pp. 769-799.
Brennan Jr., William J. “State Constitutions and the Protection of Individual Rights.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 90, 1977, pp. 489-504.
Clark, Bradford R. “The Supremacy Clause as a Constraint on Federal Power.” The George Washington Law Review, vol. 71, 2003, pp. 91-134.
Fairman, Charles. “Does the Fourteenth Amendment Incorporate the Bill of Rights? The Original Understanding.” Stanford Law Review, vol. 2, no. 2, 1949, pp. 5-139.
Solimine, Michael E., and James L. Walker. “Constitutional Litigation in Federal and State Courts: An Empirical Analysis of Judicial Parity.” Hastings Constitutional Law Quarterly, vol. 10, no. 2, 1982, pp. 213-253.
Watts, Ronald L. “Comparing Federal Political Systems.” Understanding Federalism and Federation, vol. 1, 2015, pp. 117-137.
Wechsler, Herbert. “The Political Safeguards of Federalism: The Role of the States in the Composition and Selection of the National Government.” Columbia Law Review, vol. 54, no. 4, 1954, pp. 543-560.
Williams, Andy. UK Government & Politics. Heinemann, 1998.