Federalism For Dummies

by Diane Rufino, Oct. 31, 2017

Federalism is the key design feature of our government system here in the United States, as established by the US Constitution, and therefore is something everyone should understand. I thought I’d try to make it easy and visual for people to understand.

Federalism is defined as a compound mode of government, with a general government (the central or ‘federal’ government) and regional governments (state governments) combined into a single political system. Each government is considered a separate and independent sovereign. A “sovereign” is defined as a group or body having the supreme authority to rule over the inhabitants within its borders and to make decisions concerning the jurisdiction’s safety and security. Another term, therefore, for federalism is “dual sovereignty.”

In the picture above, taken on Halloween, the silver bowls represent two equal sovereigns – each with supreme authority over the tasks and responsibilities delegated to it. The candy represents those tasks and responsibilities. The bowl on the left represents the federal government, with only a few tasks and responsibilities. These are expressly delegated and enumerated in Articles I – III in the Constitution. The bowl on the right is the state government, which retains the vast reserve of governmental powers. The tasks and responsibilities reserved to the states are so numerous that they could not be listed or enumerated, and instead are lumped together as “reserved powers” in the Tenth Amendment.

The Tenth Amendment reads: “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.”

So next time you think that the federal government has unlimited power, two things will help put things into perspective for you – the picture of the two bowls of Halloween candy and the simple words of the Tenth Amendment.

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About forloveofgodandcountry

I'm originally from New Jersey where I spent most of my life. I now live in North Carolina with my husband and 4 children. I'm an attorney
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