In the US Supreme Court, Massachusetts is defending a state law
that bans trade with the nation of Burma.
In Arizona, Gov. Jane Hull is hoping to test a new temporary work
visa for Mexican laborers.
And here in Texas, state leaders have stepped up regular meetings
with officials of the four Mexican states along Texas's border, to
turn the border region into a single economic entity.
From one coast to the other, America's states are increasingly
acting like the Greek city-states of antiquity, determining their
own foreign policy and routes of trade. And like modern-day Spartas,
their behavior is being driven by a less-centralized notion of
"nation" at home, as well as a broader view of the world and its
This new brand of federalism has its detractors, who see a state-
by-state approach to trade policies as a hardship for business. But
with globalization creating greater competition worldwide, and
courts so far endorsing the trend, it's only going to continue,
In the very long term, "it's now possible to imagine a world
where the United States does not exist as it has in the 20th
century," says Peter Spiro, a law professor at Hofstra University in
Hempstead, N.Y. "States are very intent on pursuing their distinct
international interests, and if you're saying international
interests, it makes a big difference whether you're sitting in
Minnesota or New Mexico."
Nowhere is the growing power of states more obvious than along
the US-Mexico border, especially in Texas, which accounts for 80
percent of the surface transportation of products between America
and its neighbor to the south. There, under the influence of the
North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), state officials are
meeting regularly with Mexican counterparts to hammer out the daily
details of free trade, from water quality along the Rio Grande to
"The daily interaction along the US-Mexican border dictates some
degree of local control, since it is we who are living our lives
within the framework of NAFTA," says Eliot Shapleigh, a state
senator from El Paso.
These days, Senator Shapleigh says he finds himself working more
closely with officials in the Mexican state of Chihuahua than with
officials from Arkansas. And new laws are encouraging more cross-
One bill allows state money to pay for environmental projects on
either side of the border. To improve air quality, for instance,
Texas money can now be used to buy a polluting Mexican brick kiln
and put it out of business. …