The Rebirth of Federalism: Slouching toward Washington

The Rebirth of Federalism: Slouching toward Washington

The Rebirth of Federalism: Slouching toward Washington

The Rebirth of Federalism: Slouching toward Washington

Synopsis

Both a history of American federalism and an analysis of its current condition, this second edition offers up-to-date statistics and new interpretation. While considering recent developments, Walker concludes with an optimistic assessment of the overall health of the system.

Excerpt

This book is both a history of American federalism and an analysis of its current somewhat conflicted condition. It is not accidental that our entire system of domestic governance also is now encountering severe challenges. Federalism, after all, historically has been a facilitator far more often than it has been an obstacle. But this fact has been forgotten in recent years, in large part because people of vastly different political persuasions need the national government to achieve at least some of their programmatic goals. Federalism then has become the least constant, hence the weakest, of our constitutional principles. Were James Madison to magically reappear in Washington, D.C., he would find nearly all of his paramount precepts for the national Constitution in remarkably robust health. The partial separation of powers, checks and balances, judicial review (though more of a Hamiltonian principle than his), republicanism, respect for the document as basic law, and the concomitant respect for liberty and the protection of individual rights are in good to extremely good condition. With federalism or the geographic division of governmental powers and authority, his judgment would have to be "fair" in practice, though were his assessment to have been made a generation ago, it inevitably would have been worse. The operational role of the states after all became indispensable since the sixties. Without them most national programs would not be implemented; without their enhanced fiscal power and administrative capacity, national resources would be revealed as inadequate; without these reformed states, the center would be rendered catatonic. Moreover, the Supreme Court beginning in the early nineties began to hand down a cluster of cases that began to curb certain congressional Powers and place the states in a stronger constitutional position than they had been in since the thirties.

So why the middling but still negative judgment regarding the health of American federalism today? It is because in the judicial, constitutional, political, and representational spheres, the states and their localities by implication occupy a secondary position when compared to the counterpart stance of the national government. The Court, as we shall see, has favored the states in an increasing number of instances in recent years. But the supremacy of the Federal government in the commerce power, the conditional spending sphere, which is the single most potent source of national constitutional Power, the supremacy clause, and some recent cases in the taxing area only underscore the systemic and constitutional hurdles a conservative Supreme Court encounters when it seeks to protect "our Federalism," as justice Hugo Black once described it.

When the centripetal tendencies of our recently acquired new political (not . . .

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