Federalism and the Distribution of Power

Category: Government
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Terms and Concepts

  • Federalism: Federalism is a Political Ideology in which the power of the government is divided between the U.S government and State governments.
  • Dual Federalism: Dual Federalism also known as “Layered cake Federalism” is where in clearly defined terms political power is divided amongst the Federal and State governments. An additional concept is that the State governments can exercise their power without the Federal Government interfering.
  • Cooperative Federalism: Cooperative Federalism also known as “Marble cake federalism” is where National, State, and Local Governments come together as a whole to solve common issues/problems.
  • Centralized V. Decentralized Government: A Centralized Government is where power is managed by a de facto political executive. Federal states, and local authority are considered to be subject. As for Decentralized Government is a type of government that divides its power over a legislative body instead of maintaining power amongst a few individuals.
  • Dual V. Cooperative V. New Federalism: Dual Federalism is different from Cooperative because in Dual Federalism power is divided rather than united as in Cooperative. New Federalism is unique in its own way as it wishes to give majority if not all power back to the states.

Constitution and Amendments

Dual federalism is addressed in the 10th amendment by saying the states are given power that cannot be taken away. The Supremacy Clause, the Necessary and Proper Clause, and the Commerce Clause also address the topic of Federalism.The Supremacy Clause states that states cannot regulate or intervene in federal affairs.

Supreme Court Cases

  • US V. Lopez: This case was the first in ages that claimed the federal government was overstepping its bounds and that congress was abusing their power under the commerce clause.
  • McCulloch v Maryland: THe court had ruled that Maryland did not possess the necessary power to tax the bank. This was due to the according to the supremacy clause (article 6) of the constitution the laws of the United States hold more value than those of the state.
  • The Dred Scott Decision: This issue questioned the authority of the government over the matter of states having a say on the issue of slavery.
  • Hammer v. Dagenhart: Claimed production was not commerce, and thus outside the power of Congress to regulate, and according to the 10th amendment was for the states to decide.
  • Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee: The supreme had declared that that a specific piece of land belonged to Denny Martin; the nephew of Lord Fairfax. The state of Virginia voted and claimed the land for themselves only leaving Martin with a small portion of it. The Court rejected the claim that Virginia and the national government were equal sovereigns. Reasoning from the Constitution, Justice Story affirmed the Court’s power to override state courts to secure a uniform system of law and to fulfill the mandate of the Supremacy Clause.

Legislative Branch Position Paper

Terms and Concepts

  • Bicameral: Having two branches or chambers.
  • Continuous body: A legislative body, such as the U.S. Senate, that achieves stability by staggering the terms of its members to prevent more than a minority of seats from changing in a single election.
  • Rules Committee: A legislative committee responsible for expediting the passage of bills.
  • Cloture: A procedure for ending a debate and taking a vote.
  • Filibuster: A speech which is longer than need be with the intent to obstruct a legislative assembly, but technically does not contravene required procedures.
  • Divided Government: A situation where one political party controls the presidency while the other holds congress.

Constitution and Amendments

Article I Section I: “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States, which shall consist of a Senate and House of Representatives.” Roughly Amendments 11-26 all introduce different rules towards how the Legislation should be upheld.

Constitutional Context

In today’s society Congress has a much more loose interpretation, compared to the more strict interpretation of the legislature of years past. Many believe that will the changing times we need to have evolving rules to coincide, so exactly that was done in order to maintain equilibrium.

Supreme Court Cases

Gibbons V. Ogden: U.S. Supreme Court case establishing the principle that states cannot, by legislative enactment, interfere with the power of Congress to regulate commerce.

Membership, structure and unique characteristics of the House:

  • Members have 2-year terms. Members must be at least 25 years old. Must have been a U.S. citizen for at least 7 years. Contains 435 members.
  • Must live in the district representing. Led by the Speaker of the House. More hierarchical structure of power. Has the sole power to impeach the president.

Membership, structure and unique characteristics of the Senate:

  • Members have 6-year terms. Members must be at least 30 years old.
  • Must have been a U.S. citizen for at least 9 years. Contains 100 members. Must live in the state representing. Led by the Vice President. More even distribution of power. Has the power to decide impeachment cases.

Checks and Balances

The system of checks and balances is used to keep the government from getting too powerful in one branch. For example, the Executive Branch can veto bills from the Legislative Branch, but the Legislative Branch can override the veto

Essay Section

Historical: Congress, which governs the legislative branch, was created so that the people could represent themselves in government, and it was divided into the Senate and the House of Representatives. Congress has evolved through the ways that it has granted power to its committees and through its number of members. The evolution of the Legislative Branch’s checks and balances has ensured that the power given to each of its areas is as equal as can be without giving any one area unfair and potentially dangerous power over another. First, Congress decided to split up and organize areas (e.g., national defense, taxation, currency) into committees so that issues could be assigned to the appropriate area and be specifically addressed. These committees are responsible for creating the federal budget regarding each area, lending power especially to individuals in the Appropriations Committees that can fund their projects in-state or in-district. Thus, the Authorization Committees were formed to help keep the former in check by forcing them to have their projects authorized first. Similarly, the Authorization Committees can create organizations and assign projects but only the Appropriators can authorize payment for these. As for a change in Constitutional composition, the Constitution allows two Congress members per state, whereas the limit of members in the House of Representatives is not specified. Over time, this number of representatives has proportionately increased with states’ growing population sizes, meaning that the larger a state’s population, the higher number of representatives it will likely have.

Election: https://www.texastribune.org/2012/05/24/uttt-poll-everybody-hates-congress/


According to the polls majority of Americans favor the Legislative branch the least. This is most likely due to the belief that the members of congress are not able to relate to the general public, they do not live or think about the same struggles in day to day life. Polls dating back from the 70’s to this day show a steady decrease in how much the general public trust the Legislative branch. Voter participation in my opinion may not be as greatly affected by the individuals idea of the Legislative branch but more of the ideology tied to the current L.B. The 2012 election affected voting by subliminally urging states to introduce legislation to improve access to polls.

Judicial Branch Position Paper

Terms and Definitions

  • Judicial Review: A process in which the judiciary reviews the actions of their fellow powers; the executive and legislative branches.
  • Original Intent: To deduce the Constitution’s original meaning.
  • Judicial Restraint V. Judicial Activism: Judicial Restraint interprets the Constitution original intent, whereas, Judicial Activism interprets the Constitution in light of contemporary values.
  • Stare Decisis: A doctrine requiring lower courts to abide by prior decisions made by higher courts.
  • Amicus Curiae Brief: Relevant matters presented to the courts by a third party or individual.
  • Writs of Certiorari: An order that a higher court sends to a lower court so that they may obtain the decision and final rulings made by that lower court. Typically to review any discrepancies.
  • Rule of Four: A Supreme Court practice that allows a writ of certiorari to be granted as long as four of the nine justices decide.
  • Majority vs. Concurring vs. Dissenting opinions: A majority opinion reflects the decision agreed by more than half of the members of the court. A concurring opinion agrees with the majority decision but not necessarily for the reasons that the majority ruled in favor of. Finally, a dissenting opinion comes from a member of the court who voted in the minority.

Constitutional Context

The constitution granted the Judicial branch the power of Jurisdiction, meaning a court’s ability to interpret law. This power is limited only to federal and constitutional laws. In Article III section I the Judges of the supreme courts are said to receive compensation during their time in office regardless of behavior and/or services. The members of the supreme court that are mentioned in the Constitution are the The Justices;in today’s world there is one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices.

Judicial Structure

The three main levels of the federal court system are the district courts, and the circuit courts which are known as the first level of appeal. Lastly is the Supreme court which is classified as the final level of appeal. The judiciary Act of 1789 was signed into law by George Washington, this Established the supreme court. It did leave out power over the lower courts so congress eventually took over for those.

Path to the Supreme court

How do cases reach the U.S. Supreme Court? A case usually finds its way to the Supreme court via appeal from a circuit court. Interest groups alongside public opinion are major factors in influencing the courts to make their ideas heard.

Court Cases

  • Marbury V. Madison: Main contribution was the establishment of Judicial Review (the power given to federal courts to say that legislation and executive acts are not constitutional).
  • Bush V. Gore: the supreme court made a decision to settle the recount issue in florida’s 2000s election. This happened because Bush believed a recount was not in accordance with preserving equality and/or uniformity.
  • Hylton V. United States: This case dealt with the issue of direct tax laws. This was the very first case that the Supreme court made a decision on regarding a direct challenge towards the constitutionality of an act originating from Congress.

Essay Section

Federalist 51: Hamilton felt that the judiciary was the least dangerous branch of government because they controlled neither power or money. In other words, “strength was found in the ability to wield the sword and to control the purse.” To further his point, he explained that the judiciary lacked the means to take any sort of active resolution. He figured that the the judiciary would sit back back and ensure that the other branches were aligning with the Constitution. However, there are many who would argue with his views. As America has grown, justices have started to interpret the Constitution differently, essentially departing from the original understanding of the Constitution. This very room for interpretation is seen as extremely powerful. This is because the judicial branch has the power to change laws through its processes. The implications of this increase in power have decided important topics such as abortion and gay marriage. Simply put, a mere five judges can set the course for such sensitive topics. Through the power of judicial review, brand new policies could be set in stone by issuing them as constitutional rights and shifting the destiny of our nation.

-major court decisions: Roberts Court: Massachusetts V. EPA: An extremely monumental decision that marked the climate change of how states could sue the EPA

Rehnquist Court: Board of Estimate V. New York V. Morris: This case was important because it gave equality to the cities numerous districts in terms of representation.

Warren Court: Brown V. Board of Education: This case was monumental towards the Warren Court for it was the change to education that desegregated schools.

Executive Branch Position Paper

Terms and Concepts

  • Executive agreement V. Treaties: An Executive agreement is a conclusion to a conflict between the United States and a foreign government. It is not a formal agreement as it does not meet the constitutional requirement of ratification from the Senate. A treaty is a more formal agreement ? of the senate provide their opinion via “advice and consent”.
  • Executive order: An order proposed by the president towards the executive branch with the force of law. Congress has the privilege to override an executive order by passing legislation that in turn would cause it to no longer carry power or reason (Invalidation)
  • Executive privilege: The president is allowed to withhold information from the public as long as it deemed in their best interest
  • Pardon: Article II of the constitution grants the power of pardoning people who have committed federal crimes to the president
  • Administrative discretion: The ability of public administrators to exercise their judgement and ability to make decisions
  • Budget control and Impoundment Act: This act changed the duty of the congress in the federal budgetary process. It added a standing budget committee in both house of reps and senate. Included the creation of the congressional budget office and moved the fiscal year.

Constitutional Context

One of the powers granted to the president is the ability to appoint cabinet members as long as he has the Senate’s approval, but he is not allowed to remove them. As for the expressed powers of the constitution Article II of the constitution states that the president can serve as commander in chief, grant reprieves and/or pardons, commission officers of the military, receive ambassadors, and convene congress. Implied powers are those which are not literally written in the constitution but are deemed necessary by the president.

Historical Context

The power of the president was gradually increased over time by the hands of past presidents. For example Franklin Roosevelt led the country through the Great depression and WWII, which allowed him to gain more power through his deal programs that monitored the economy. The war out of necessity needed him to regulate foreign affairs as well. Another president who was influential in increasing presidential power was Woodrow Wilson. During WWI wilson helped congress create bills that were often considered for passing. The outcome lead Wilson to have a leading role in international affairs.

Inter-Branch Relations

The president exerts his influence over the judicial branch by appointing all federal judges. President Nixon had meddled in affairs by attempting to limit spending on social programs, scientific research, and education. Another way he involved himself was by refusing to spend the money congress had set aside for non-essential programs according to Nixon.

Court Cases

  • US V. Nixon: This case limited the executive branch’s power. It was discovered by the Supreme court that the separation of powers nor confidential communication grants give the president absolute privilege.
  • Clinton V. The City of New York: Supreme court took away the president’s power to line veto because it was unconstitutional. This can be seen as a step backwards or devolution which parallels the prompt of this question.
  • US V. Alvarez: The executive branch wanted to enable verification of military honors and they did this by taking action after the supreme court established a government funded national database of medical citations.

Executive Office of the President

The EOP is made up of the immediate staff of the President, and multiple levels of supportive staff. The EOP is lead and organized by the White House Chief of Staff. Collectively the EOP supports the President’s work.


  • Corporations: A government agency established by Congress to provide a market based service to the public and to make revenue that meets and/or exceeds expenditures.
  • Clientele Agencies: Major administrative units that are responsible for an array of government operations. Units include but are not limited to defense, commerce, or agriculture.
  • Independent executive agencies: These agencies exist outside of the federal departments and the Executive office of the president.
  • Independent regulatory commissions: A federal agency created by Congress and are independent from the Executive branch. The main purpose for these agencies are to impose and enforce regulations free of political influence

Essay Section

  • The double expectation gap is the difference between what the people want our president to do and what he can actually do. The Constitution restricts his ability to be an extremely powerful leader, but the people continually act like he should be able to get whatever he wants done. Why? What powers does the president have? When writing the Constitution, it was in mind that the legislature, NOT the president, would be the main source of power in the government. They specifically left the president weak because of their fear of a monarch. When the public gets angry with the president for having too much or too little power, there is only so much the president can do to mend his image. For example they can attempt to listen to the public’s wishes and try to accomplish them if they are within reason.
  • The cabinet includes the Vice president and the heads of 15 executive departments. The Cabinet’s role is to advise the president on matters relating to the members respective office. The Executive office supports the president by providing aid needed to govern effectively. The Executive office of the president is more intertwined directly with the president because they evaluate the political significance of his/her actions, manage how he/she present themselves, etc. 
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Federalism and the Distribution of Power. (2021, Aug 04). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/federalism-and-the-distribution-of-power/

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