An Analysis of the Political System of Federalism in the United States of America

Updated August 1, 2022

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An Analysis of the Political System of Federalism in the United States of America essay

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Federalism is a system of government in which political power is divided between a national government and state governments, each having their own substantive jurisdiction. In the United States of America, this refers to the devolution of powers between the central government and the fifty states. One key aspect of federalism is that it promotes regional differences. The United States is a large nation with millions upon million of citizens, and naturally their political views, religious beliefs and general way of life differs across the nation. Thus, different states can separately impose laws that reflect the beliefs and views of their citizens. For example, up until President Obama and the Supreme Court made same-sex marriage legal in all fifty states, it was up to the individual states themselves to decide whether or not to allow same-sex marriage.

California, for example, legalized same-sex marriage in 2013, whereas states like Texas outlawed same-sex marriage until the national bill was passed. This is because many of the residents in that state (and many others) opposed same-sex marriage, predominantly on religious grounds. Like Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia and many others, Texas is a part of the informally classified ‘Bible belt’ where religion plays a big role in society and politics. These states argued that as a federal nation, each state deserved the right to decide individually whether or not they would allow same-sex marriage and protested that by passing this law, central government was undermining the concept of federalism and playing too large a role in their lives. In general though, when central government does not interfere, federalism is effective in representing the views of each individual state. Notably, the states that are against a larger role in government and a greater implementation of federalism are Republicans, and many of the aforementioned states are strong supporters of the Republican Party. 

The political consequences of federalism are also significant in assessing its role in modern society. There are many instances of negative political consequences due to federalism, like the issues in the aftermath of the 2000 election in which there was controversy as to who won Florida’s 25 electoral votes, either George W Bush or Al Gore. There were many reasons as to why this issue happened, all of which were at least in part due to federalism. For example, due to each state being allowed different mechanisms for polling, Florida’s hole-punch ballot cards were called into question, arguing that ballots with the holes not punched all the way through were not counted. If every state had to adhere to the same system, Florida would not have been singled out and a more convenient system, like electronic voting, would likely have been put in place instead. As Florida was too close to call, the decision as to who would be the next President of the United States was taken to the Supreme Court, who heard arguments from each side. Al Gore argued in favour of a statewide recount, saying that such a thing was legal by referring to the 10th Amendment, which gives states control over the electoral process, a staple of federal society. The tenth Amendment in its entirety states: the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. Therefore, Al Gore was arguing it was down to Florida to sort out this mistake, not the central government or the Supreme Court. In this instance, the candidate who won the popular vote (Al Gore) did not win the election. This is another issue of federalism as due to the Electoral College system, a popular vote is not always needed in order to win the election and form a government.

A significant complication of federalism is the fact that both state governments and central governments have tax raising powers. This leads to a complex system with many flaws, such as how state officials can have economic policies opposing that of the central government, thereby causing tension and issues which call into question the role of ‘big government’ and how it can undermine the concept of federalism. Regardless of this controversy, the elastic clause in the United States Constitution acts as a legal justification for central government taking a bigger role in state-by-state politics. In the clause (which is Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution), there is a statement that grants Congress the power to pass all laws necessary and proper for carrying out the enumerated list of powers. Technically, central government has the right to pass any law it pleases, regardless of the principals of federalism. However, this is not ‘proper’ in modern government and is only used when absolutely necessary, such as during the economic recession that President Obama inherited. There, he introduced economic policies (stimulus packages) to combat the recession as best he could. Without the Obama stimulus, which appropriated roughly $140 billion to the states to reduce their budgetary shortfalls during 2009 and 2010, the economic recession would have been much worse. Therefore, central government can provide a beneficial role in assisting the states in times of financial crisis.

In conclusion, Federalism causes a lot of issues in modern American society, but due to the fact it’s a long-standing tradition of their country, it’s unlikely to be changed any time soon.

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An Analysis of the Political System of Federalism in the United States of America. (2022, Aug 01). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/an-analysis-of-the-political-system-of-federalism-in-the-united-states-of-america/

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