President Ronald Reagan was in his sixth year of office in 1985 when the Supreme Court held 5-4, and against a previous 1976 decision, that federal minimum wage standards covered public transportation workers. The case was Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit, and it once again confirmed the power of the federal government to regulate the states. This power of broad regulation over the states, deferred to the federal government, isn’t absolute nor is it likely to remain at a consistent level as state right’s advocates and coercive federalists continue to duke it out in a contest to see who the boss is really. Just ten years after the Garcia decision, the court again muddied the issue again by holding in the US vs Lopez case that the federal government had only limited jurisdiction when intervening in state and local law enforcement.
The decision “restricted the power of Congress, established in the Constitution, to regulate interstate commerce. ..Congress, the court ruled 5-4, had exceeded its authority when it passed a law making it a federal crime to carry a gun within 1,000 feet of a school. ..the decision struck down the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990” (text). To many onlookers, it looked like the fight had turned on the federalists, supported just a year later by the decision that “Congress could not require the states to negotiate over gambling casinos with Indian tribes” (text). Coercive federalism, is generally propelled buy money, or the power of the purse as its controlling factor. This is more or less kind of like a child’s mother saying if you do not eat your vegetables you will not get any desert. Like in the case of Louisiana, where there drinking age was eight-teen, and the federal government would withhold ten percent of federal road funding to the states with a drinking age of less than twenty-one. This lack of funding hurt the state financially so the drinking age was repealed and changed to twenty-one. So it seems that no matter how much devolution takes place, the practice of power being shifted from federal to state level, the last word of what is to be done and how the money is used is up to the federal government.
These are just a few recent examples of the ongoing conflict between the states and the federalist minded; however, is it really necessary that the unelected, appointed Supreme Court should mandate policy over democratically elected legislatures? Most of the conflicts involving state’s rights over federalist issues seems might be better decided with a joint state/federal commission appointed to decide the rational nature of the issue at hand or perhaps in more serious cases, a national referendum might be considered. Whatever the alternative, the Supreme Court with its constant wavering is much like a referee at a football game who, in the middle of the third quarter, suddenly decides to change the rules of the game. All this going back and forth over the past two hundred years clearly shows that neither side really knows what their clear place in the federal structure is. The only clear relationship that exists between them is one of mutual misunderstanding and confusion, all left up to the prevailing opinion of a small body of men and one woman called the Supreme Court. In my opinion, the conflict really is about the rise of the power of the Supreme Court to interfere and confuse public legislation and popular opinion. In every matter we seem to defer to it rather than adopting more democratic alternatives of deciding the proper role of federal and local/state government, such as the referendums and joint commissions (temporary bodies used to investigate and offer recommendations on the matter at hand) used by the European democracies.