Modern federalism is at crossroads in maintaining balance between national and state government. Development and evolution of democracy over the centuries has been focusing on devolution of central powers of government to increase independence of the local states. Currently, since the United States has experienced effectiveness of both national and local governments, the politicians are busy advocating for the balance between the two.
Some politicians are advocating for devolution to increase independence of various states and the subsequent development while others are advocating for centralization of powers for the standardization of laws and policies towards resolution of a common problem. Modern federalism in the United States does not distinguish between national issues and local issues because politicians are group the issue together as common problems that need common solution and hence centralization of issues.
Derthick argues that, “as these contrasting conceptions suggest, American federalism is a highly protean form, long on change and confusion, short on fixed, generally accepted principles” (Para. 3). Thus, the state of federalism in the United States is obscure because national and local forces are actively pulling their sides.
When vice president, Albert Gore, in 2000 sought presidential nomination on democratic ticket, he gave detailed manifesto on the issues that he would deal with if elected as president of the United States. Since the United States has devolved form of government with strong legislations that distinguish central and local government, the manifesto of Albert Gore did reflect federalism.
Among the issues in his manifesto was education, which lies in jurisdiction of the local government and not national government according to the federal legislations. “Gore’s ‘blizzard of positions’ included preschool for all children, a ban on gang-style clothing, teacher testing, ‘second-chance’ schools for trouble-prone students, back-to-school parent-teacher meetings where a strict discipline code would be signed, and ‘character education’ courses in the schools” (Derthick Para. 2).
The education manifesto of a presidential candidate reflects that national government still dominate local governments despite the devolution of powers and responsibilities.
Since Congress tends to formulate legislations that undermine federalism, judiciary has counteracted some of the legislation that deem unfavourable for federal system of government. For example, “in Printz v. U.S. (1997) the court invalidated a provision of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act that required local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on all gun purchasers” (Derthick Para. 8).
The court ruled out that the provision would contravene the tenth amendment to the United States constitution by giving local government the mandate to carry out responsibility of the federal government.
Moreover, in electoral politics, modern constitutional amendments have favoured centralization of electoral process and voting rights though earlier devolution gave local governments the responsibility to run and control their own electoral process and legislations. Thus, shift in electoral powers means that the United States is centralizing some of the already devolved powers.
Due to increasing common interests of various states in terms of education, security, democracy, and development, the central government is gradually usurping devolved powers of various states with the objective of enhancing concerted efforts towards resolution of critical issues. In this view, federalism is growing gradually at the expense of devolution. That is why the United States president still has imperial powers to command respective states concerning matters that deem to be common amongst various states.
Derthick, Martha. “American Federalism: Half Full or Half Empty.” The Brookings Institution. 2000. Web. 12 May 2011.