The Enshrinement of Federalism in the Constitution
How and why is federalism enshrined in the constitution?
Federalism refers to the relationship between the central government and the individual state governments, their share of power and responsibilities is written into the constitution.
One way in which federalism is enshrined in the constitution is through the enumerated powers, written out in section 1 article 8. The original 13 states delegated 30 powers to the federal government to be dealt with in the interest of the entire population in order to provide some continuity between the states. These include, the power to collect tax, borrow money and establish citizenship rules. All other powers are theoretically to be entrusted with the state governments including health care policy, education and abortion legislation so that they could be more representative to the individual culture and ideologies within each state. The federal government is also limited in its role by the prohibited powers outlined in the 12th article of the constitution. These include, up until 1808 the prevention from banning the importation of slaves, and the inability to suspend Habeus Corpus. Through the constitution the different responsibilities to be handled by the central government and the state governments are set out and the limitations of the federal government are too, and so although the term federalism isn’t specifically used, in the constitution federalism is enshrined.
Equal representation for each state is also enshrined in the constitution, which means that each state has the same amount of influence in government making policy fair and balanced. Each state has two senators no matter the population size so that no one state is neglected nor able to overpower the others. The state of California for example has a population of 39 million, whereas Wyoming has just under 600,000 and yet they both have two senators, so that the people of Wyoming are not overshadowed by the larger states. The House of Representatives however, does have a proportional system and the number of representatives is dependent on population size, in order to give each state a fair amount of opportunity to represent the needs across the state. California, being the most populous state has 53 representatives and Wyoming, the least populated, has only two. This system is enshrined in the constitution so that no government is able to change the structure and neglect the smaller states.
The way that the constitution can be amended can also be seen in the constitution. It outlines the federal system in the US as it gives a considerable amount of power to the states and prevents the government from changing the constitution without proper consensus. The constitution can only be amended by a constitutional convention called by 2/3’s of the state legislatures or a 2/3’s majority vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate. This means that a large amount of agreement is needed, and amendments aren’t constantly being made and reversed by different parties in government. It also means that several governments have struggled to keep the constitution contemporary. Obama for example, was unable to tighten gun control following the 18 mass murder shootings that took place under his term, due to the second amendment and the fundamental value of the right to bear arms that so many Americans hold as a result.
Finally, the elastic clause in the constitution gives the federal government the power to manipulate the constitution and hold more influence over the state governments. Health care for example, due to the lack of enumerated power in this area, is dealt with individually between state lines. However, because of the elastic clause, the Obama government was able to manipulate the constitution, deeming it ‘necessary and proper’ to deal with health care as a tax with Obama Care. Due to the supremacy clause, every state law or policy has to be in line with the federal government legislation, and if a new central government policy is bought in it takes priority and the state legislation has to be amended. As a result, as one of the federal government’s enumerated powers, the Obama Care tax, had to be carried out by all states.
Overall, federalism is not specifically referred to in the constitution but it is outlined and established by a number of clauses and articles. The enumerated powers and the prohibited powers lay out what the federal government can and can’t do and as a result what powers remain for the state governments to control. The amount of representation and influence per state in congress is also established and the individual states role in the amendment process also acts to limit the powers of the federal government by making it a lengthier process. The supremacy and elastic clause however, do give the central government a significant amount of power over the states and provide it with a means of establishing a central control over the country.