Federalism: Nation & States

The framers of the U.S. Constitution sought to create a limited government in which power was fragmented and divided not only between different institutions (separation of powers) but also between different levels of government (federalism).  

Federal: Enumerated & Implied Powers

The federal government was designed to be one of limited and enumerated powers.  Enumerated powers, which are explicitly listed in the U.S. Constitution, include coining money, regulating interstate commerce, conducting foreign affairs, establishing rules of naturalization, raising and supporting armies, and declaring war.  Congress was also granted implied powers through the elastic clause:

[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.

Some of the growth in power in the federal government has resulted from broader interpretations of enumerated powers, such as Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce,  (i.e., commerce clause).  Most of the growth in federal power (and most of what the federal government does today), however, is associated with its implied powers.

States: Reserved Powers

States were designed to be governments of general jurisdiction.  According to the reservation clause, “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.”  In other words, states are granted reserved powers, which have traditionally included things such as regulating intrastate commerce, conducting elections, and police powers (i.e., providing for the health, safety, education, and welfare of its people).  This design was meant to give the government closest to the people the means through which action can be taken to address the everyday needs of its people.  Today, many of the states’ reserved powers are no longer under their sole authority.

Federal & States: Concurrent Powers

Concurrent powers are powers that can be exercised by both the federal government and state governments.  Some of the more visible concurrent powers that exist include taxation, borrowing money, making and enforcing laws, and eminent domain.

Restrictions on Federal & State Power

Most restrictions on federal and state authority can be found in Article I, Sections 9 and 10, the Bill of Rights, and the Fourteenth Amendment.