Can Federalism Survive?
The United States's Structural Pitfall
The ideas introduced though new doctrines can at first seem wonderful, such as federalism. The Founding Fathers’ idea that there could be a document that has a set of guidelines for government to follow along with a separation of a state and federal governments truly seems appetizing. The key word is "seems." Federalism seems great, but there is a structural pitfall, one that has the potential to kill the tantalizing essence of federalism. The structural pitfall is that the federal government trumps the state governments. The states can have their own laws; however, if the federal government makes new legislation, that is the law of the land. It is nearly impossible for states to dispute a federal decision. Today, there is an increase in centralized policy-making in the federal government. This creates a danger for federalism because the centralization of policy is an example of the pitfall discussed before. Centralization of federal policies diminishes the power of state decisions, desires, and determinations which eventually creates a unitary system of government—a concept the Founding Fathers despised considering their revolution against an authoritative king. The eradication of federalism is a reinforcement of executive abuse of power, an elimination of democracy, and an infringement of the Constitution.
Politics are local. The United States has state governments and local governments for a reason, to find out what people want and need and address those needs. States within the U.S. need and desire different things, because of differing population densities, people, and cultures that live within states. The same goes for the federal government, which addresses the nation as a whole. It is supposed to address the bigger needs that are overarching, not micromanage. Micromanaging oversteps on local politics and undermines the authority and legitimacy of state governments. Nevertheless, state governments have a duty to their people to serve them and their needs. For instance, if many citizens that live in Colorado complain about a road that needs desperate repair, they can contact their local government for it to be repaired. If there are bigger issues that are prevalent in the state, citizens can create legislation to address the problem directly in order for it to be fixed. The federal government does not have the time to address individual state problems such as road quality, considering how many problems there are in each state locally, multiplied by 50. Federalism is instituted because it can address those smaller problems but if the federal government is undermining that authority, it could destroy federalism and the United States in that case would suffer greatly, especially with the quality of living. People want to live in adequate homes, have sustainable infrastructure, and raise their children in a healthy environment—however these qualities of life would not thrive if there was a unitary form of government instead of federalism. This does not mean that the federal government should never be involved in state or local affairs, it means there should be a line drawn when the federal government intervenes, hence dual federalism. To illustrate the point, if there are mass murders occurring in the state of Oregon, committed by the same person(s) and the state government needs help, it is a appropriate for the federal government, specifically the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to intervene.
American federalism is grounded in the roots of the Constitution. However, today there is an increase in the centralization of politics in the federal government. Some of these policies have overstepped their prescribed role given in the Constitution, which has endangered the survival of federalism. It is an abuse of power in the eyes of the Constitution which is supposed to have the highest authority in the federalism triangle.
There are many recent examples of overstepping the prescribed role of the executive branch in the Constitution. A classic example is an executive order. Executive orders are not mentioned in the Constitution. In fact, laws made by the President are supposed to be officially made legislation through Congress, not by the President. Thus, an executive order in itself can be said to overstep the Constitution. However, executive orders are heavily used, especially in the last century, and President Donald Trump is no exception. President Trump has made many executive orders, but there is one in particular that is interesting. The “Sanctuary Cities and Local-Federal Immigration Enforcement” executive order. This order under Section 9 “forbids sanctuary jurisdictions from receiving federal grants and permits local state law enforcement to act as immigration agents and apprehend and or detain immigrants” (President Trump's Executive Orders on Immigration and Refugees). This executive order debilitates state government authority over its citizens. There are states that have major cities that are sanctuaries for immigrants that are trying to stay here legally. The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is very long and very difficult, which is a big reason why these sanctuaries exist. The federal government enforcing the forbiddance of sanctuaries is a clear abuse of power, because the federal government does trump state governments. But sometimes, states know what is best for their constituents and this order compromises the powers of state governments. There is a hint in the executive order that is suggested that the order does overstep the Constitution. The hint is that cities that disobey the order and continue having sanctuaries will not receive federal funding, a tactic used to frighten cities that are aiding immigrants to obey the radical executive order. However, this is a hint that the federal government is overstepping because in a true situation when the federal government creates legislation that is the law of the land officially, there is not a way for states to disobey without serious repercussions. But, in this case, the executive order does not have true power to make state governments obey by threatening funding, because the power of the purse resides in Congress. Only Congress can adjust or revoke funding from states. In the aftermath of the order, cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York, which are some of the biggest U.S. sanctuaries, did disobey the order and continued to aid immigrants. Moreover, there are many examples of executive orders that overstep the Constitution throughout many presidents, President Trump and his executive orders are no exception.
The United States prides itself on being a consolidated democracy; however, due to increased centralization of policies in the federal government, this doctrine can dissipate into a unitary form of government—a form of government that has always been refused by the United States. An increase in executive orders, unsupported bills, and delegating Congressional powers to the president will lead a path to a unitary government that does not consider the fifty individual states values and needs. In the last few decades, the President’s power has tremendously increased along with the staff that works for the president. For instance, the spending for the executive branch has increased dramatically in the last century, it only increases each year. In 1960, the executive branch alone spent $92,191. In 2015, the executive branch spent $3,908,000 (Parinandi). The executive branch spending between 1960 and 2015 is almost a $4 million difference. Instead of the executive branch spending excessive funds, the ever growing spending could be diminished and redistributed to state projects that are in critical need of aid. In order to increase the quality of living and the happiness of the U.S., federalism needs to be re-embraced. The jobs of state governments and their representatives should not have a decreasing workload and passing it to the federal government to handle, an issue, such as proper infrastructure, can be addressed more adequately and efficiently if a state government handles the state or local issue on their own.
Finally, the United States is a democracy that is supposed to be run by the People. However, the People of this nation cannot be heard when their voices are overpowered by international issues or imminent national security issues that the federal government will take precedence over, that is supposed to be the purpose of the separation of state and local governments. The quality of life and efficiency of the U.S will begin to increase if federalism is re-embraced. The increase of centralized policy in the federal government has created an abuse of federal power, delocalized politics, and is disrupting the democracy that the U.S is supposed to be. Federalism has a structural pitfall, a pitfall the United States is falling into very quickly, developing an endangerment to federalism, an endangerment to its people.
Parinandi, Srinivas. “The Presidency”. American Politics 110, 6 March 2018.
“President Trump's Executive Orders on Immigration and Refugees.” The Center for Migration
Studies of New York (CMS), Center on Migration Studies, 14 Feb. 2017.