Federalism in Political Structure and Power: The New Role of Federal Law in Constraining Political Processes in American State and Local Governments
A central element of American federalism is the power of the states to define their own internal political structures. The Constitution of 1787 did not prescribe rules concerning state political structure. Instead, it assumed state autonomy and built on state decisions concerning state representative institutions and state electorates in creating the national government. Members of the House of Representatives are elected "by the People of the several States," with the electors in each state to have "the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature." 1 Senators were originally chosen by state legislatures; 2 when the Constitution was amended to provide for the direct election of senators, the electorate for the Senate, like the House, was that "of the most numerous branch of the State legislatures." 3 The president is selected by electors appointed by the states "in such manner as the legislature thereof may direct." 4
Free to design their own institutions of political power, the states have over two centuries experimented considerably. Some state political decisions--such as the definition of their electorates, or requirements that parties nominate candidates through primaries--have direct ramifications for national politics. Other state political actions--such as unicameral legislatures, 5 the election of judges and cabinet officers whose federal counterparts are appointed, 6 the election of local legislatures at large rather than from districts, or the provision for direct citizen law making through referenda or ballot initiatives 7--are departures from the national "model" of government structure that have altered state and local politics without directly affecting the national government.
Over the last 30 years, however, the balance of federalism in the regulation of the political process has changed significantly. Through a combination of developments--constitutional amendments, congressional enactments, and