The term "federalism" describes the changing relationship between the national and state governments as they sort out their roles and responsibilities within the federal system. America has a decentralized government; there is no single source of power or center of government. Federalism goes well with pluralism, because of the multiple centers of power that exist in the government, and also the many divisions of power. There are several levels of government including the federal government, the 50 states, county and city governments and independent school districts. However, the major players are the national and state governments. The tensions between the two are clear when it comes to civil rights, money, and power.
The tension is all about the constant power shifts. Power shifting policies that affect everyone like welfare, the minimum drinking age, or affirmative action policies for minority owned businesses, this is all federalism, the ever changing balance of power between the state and federal governments. Federalism started out as layered cake, with clear distinctions between the spheres of state and national government. When the constitution was born, it held that certain policy areas, such as interstate commerce and defense, were the exclusive provinces of national authority, while public health and intrastate commerce, belonged clearly and exclusively to the states. This is Dual federalism. The two levels had equal strength and power, which lead to jealousy. Competition between the two was primarily over economic development and regulation.
When imposing uniformity, the system creates tension. For example, during the 1960’s, the Supreme Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to apply the Bill of Ri...
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...to regulate interstate commerce.
America needed to evolve into the modern federalism where the country is under the gently guiding hand of the national government, but states still have local influence. They stay in sync with their heritages and culture. States don’t have to be completely uniform, but rather just maintain a particular standard. You can see this if you drive around America. States and localities still very much have their individuality. Each has their own set of laws, and regulations. Not every airport allows smoking for example, or is prostitution illegal everywhere. Neither the New Deal nor the Great Society civil rights legislation would have happened if we were still operating under dual federalism. There would be hardly any social programs and minimal commercial ones. So, evolution of federalism was not only necessary but also desirable.
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