The Principle of Federalism is Getting More Attention

By Stuart MacPhail – February 2021
Several writers have dealt with the topic of federalism over the past month.

  • On January 8 former ND state representative Bette Grande (current CEO of the Roughrider Policy Center) wrote in Inform (an affiliate of WDAY – Fargo, ND) expressing amazement that Congress suddenly had so many strict constitutionalists as it dealt with issues surrounding certification of electors.

Her piece is entitled Federalism is the only answer.  She says, “Federalism, recognizing the authority and autonomy of each state, is the only answer for our divided republic.  And, the Constitution is not a convenience to be pulled out only when it suits.”  Read her piece HERE.

  • Last month this newsletter led with an article wherein the author claimed that America’s federalism was in tatters.  Constitutional expert Rob Natelson responded, challenging the writer’s premise.

“You mentioned an article in Governing Magazine claiming federalism is in tatters.  One of the author’s reasons is that ‘the federal government has dumped many of its public health responsibilities for COVID-19 onto the states.’

“The author should read the Constitution: Outside of federal enclaves and territories and cross-border activities, the federal government has almost no public health responsibilities.  This is a classic example of an area the Constitution reserves to the states.   As Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in Gibbons v. Ogden, ‘health laws of every description’ are almost entirely a state responsibility.

“The author is correct that federalism is in tatters.  But it’s because the feds are meddling with far too much, not that they are doing too little.”

It comes as no surprise that Dr. Anthony Fauci believes “federalism has undermined America’s response to the pandemic.”  Jacob Sullum writes about Fauci’s views in ReasonHERE.

  • During the past few months federalism adherents throughout the world watched how America honored the federalism principles embodied in the US Constitution.  Vijay Kumar wrote Federalism As A Lynchpin Of Democracy – Lesson From The US Election for Mainstream Weekly, a publication out of New Delhi, India.

Mr. Kumar wrote, “The system of securing majority in [the] electoral college and its primacy over popular vote may sound odd and incongruous to outside observers, but the principle of federalism embodied in [the] US Constitution mandated the equal say of even the smallest States in the election of its President.”  Then he recounted some of the shortcomings in India’s federalist system.  Read his thoughts HERE.

  • “Rediscovering federalism might be the country’s only sustainable way to reduce political tensions,” says Victor Joecks in a January 9 piece for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Joecks argues, “The easiest way to lower the political temperature is to make politics less important.”  He also says, “The genius of federalism is that it allows people in states with radically different policies to live in relative harmony.  Embracing the concept would lower the political temperature.  I wish I could say I was optimistic.”  Read his thoughts HERE.

  • Fittingly, on January 15 the Providence (RI) Journal carried an opinion piece by Kenneth F. Payne under the heading Grateful for American federalism.  He says, “At the core of the Constitution are a recognition of the need for power and a distrust of consolidated power — the Constitution distributes powers among branches and levels of government.”

Then he concludes by saying, [L]et us accept that there is no perfect past to which we can return and there is no ideal future into which we can progress, and that thus we are left with an ever-messy present and an ongoing obligation to create a more perfect union. Ah, American federalism, an unending effort for us [to] embrace with gratitude.”  Read his thoughts HERE.

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