The debate on federalism in the USA has been ongoing for more than a century. Some criticize this type of political system as it restricts people’s (as well as states’) rights considerably. Opponents of the American federalism have argued that the country needs to be a confederation that will ensure that citizens will have more rights. Proponents of federalism stress that any other political system will fail in the USA due to a variety of reasons. They emphasize that the system works efficiently and citizens have enough freedom to exercise their rights. It is noteworthy that both parties admit that democracy is the principle that has reigned and should be preserved in the USA irrespective of the political system chosen since the American society was nurtured in democratic values.
In the first place, it is essential to define democracy and understand what it means for Americans. Brutus notes that in “a pure democracy the people are the sovereign, and their will is declared by themselves” (par. 16). It is possible to add that a democratic society is the one where “the equality of social conditions” reach “extreme limits” (De Tocqueville 11). Many people believe that this is the most righteous system of the social order. At the same time, some claim that democracy can often transform into a tyranny of the majority as rights of individuals may be violated for the good of all. This is why, Americans value discussion and debate as a way to find the most appropriate compromise.
It is necessary to add that democracy for Americans is something natural since the nation was formed based on the principle of equality. De Tocqueville stresses that Puritans had a great impact on the formation of the nation (326). Admittedly, Puritans, who formed the major part of the newcomers, pertained to the middle class and they all practiced the same religion, which was very important for the future of the nation and establishment of the democratic society in its present form. These people believed that equality was the key to a better world and this revolutionary (at that time) idea proved to be effective. Notably, Americans managed to create the society where people exercise various rights, which enables them to build up a democratic country.
As has been mentioned above, both opponents and supporters of federalism in the United States share democratic values. However, these two groups tend to have different approaches to development of a democratic society. Proponents of federalism claim that this political system can ensure proper functioning of such a great (in many respects) country.
First, supporters of federalism stress that only this system may enable the national government to enact laws that would contribute to the development of the nation and prevent a variety of crises. The process of reinforcement of the national power started as early as the first part of the eighteenth century. Thus, in Gibbons v. Oregon (which took place in 1824) John Marshall, the 3rd chief justice of the United States, decides that the city of New York could not set up “a steamboat monopoly on the Hudson River” (Barbour & Wright 82). He referred to “the part of Article 1, Section 8, that allows Congress to regulate” commercial issues “among the several states” (Barbour & Wright 82). Clearly, in this case, the national law did not allow some business groups to create a monopoly over several states as it could threaten development of the business in the states involved or even in the entire country.
Of course, such events as slavery abolish and providing voters’ rights to citizens could be hardly possible to implement without a strong national government. Hence, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution forced the southern states to ensure that all the freed slaves would enjoy the rights of the citizen (Barbour & Wright 84). Notably, this Amendment enabled courts to “declare unconstitutional” a variety of laws that existed in some states in the 1970s and “severely” limited rights of citizens contributing to development of a segregated society (Barbour & Wright 84). It is also important to add that such crucial issues as making war and peace also has to be in the jurisdiction of Congress as some states can bring the whole nation to war if they are allowed to make decisions on the matter.
Apart from such grand issues as political international and home affairs, the US political system enables Congress to allocate funds accordingly and contribute to the development of the entire nation. Admittedly, states taxation is different as well as each states’ earning and spending. Some states may need more funds at some periods while other states may have excessive funds at certain period. Clearly, it could be difficult for separate states to develop a policy which would regulate funds allocation. The result of such policy would inevitably be disproportionate and ineffective. There are numerous examples of effectiveness of the federal funds allocation. For instance, the country is now facing a very difficult period of financial constraints. States have had significant difficulties in getting enough money from taxes and the federal “stimulus funds” helped lots of states to cope with almost 40% of their “budget shortfalls” (Barbour & Wright 82).
Another important benefit of federalism is efficient system of standards. Clearly, states have a variety of laws regulating different spheres. It is possible to consider an example of such regulations to understand benefits of national laws. Thus, Arizona officials enacted certain laws to reinforce immigration legislation on their level. However, the federal Department of Justice officials stressed that states “can and do play a role in cooperating with the federal government” in dealing with immigration laws but they “must do so within our constitutional framework” (qtd. in Barbour & Wright 94). Clearly, federal officials strive for a unified system since if states were allowed to enact their laws “there would be fifty separate sets of rules and sanctions for federal officials to navigate” (Barbour & Wright 94). The Us Constitution ensures that states’ laws should comply with the federal law. According to the supremacy clause of Article IV, the US Constitution (as well as federal laws which are based on it) is “the supreme law of the land” (Barbour & Wright 76). Besides, unified regulations are favorable for businesses operating nationwide. It is noteworthy that the advantages of the system mentioned above address the most important and urgent issues which have to be addressed for the sake of development of the entire nation.
Irrespective of these obvious benefits, opponents of federalism draw people’s attention to the flaws of the system. One of major arguments of anti-federalists is that the system ‘steal’ a lot of power and rights from people. For instance, Brutus stresses that “when the people once part with power, they can seldom or never resume it again but by force” and the Constitution of the US is taking a lot of freedoms from Americans (par. 4). Anti-federalists claim that each state has the power to impose the necessary regulations in accordance with peculiarities of a number of factors. According to opponents of federalism, environment, technological development, cultural peculiarities of people living in the states and many other issues should be taken into account during enactment of laws. These people argue that centralized regulation may harm development of states as peculiarities of states are often ignored.
Clearly, the federal government puts certain restrictions and sets some regulations. However, states also have a lot of freedom to impose a variety of laws to regulate such spheres as taxation, education, healthcare and so on. Of course, the laws enacted should comply with federal laws and this may seem a restriction of rights. For instance, it is possible to consider the policy enacted by the Oregon state in 1994 (Barbour & Wright 79). The state started a “controversial experiment” on funding the healthcare system through adding uninsured people to the Medicaid program. The efficiency of the policy is yet to be evaluated. Nonetheless, this case suggests that the US Constitution grants the right of the state to enact numerous laws. It also shows efficiency of this approach as states come up with a variety of solutions for numerous issues. These solutions (if they are effective) may be employed in others states or even nationwide.
However, it is possible to consider the times of segregation to understand that some state may abuse laws which can lead to degradation of the democratic society. Thus, prior to the 1970s, many states enacted laws which deprived people basic rights based on race or their appearance and skin color. As has been mentioned above, Arizona officials are eager to enact laws which significantly restrict freedoms of people based on their ethnicity or even appearance. According to such laws, people have to have documents with them to confirm their identity and status. More so, police officers can detain persons who do not have documents and can be suspected of being an immigrant. Admittedly, American citizens of Hispanic heritage, who obtained citizenship or were born in the USA, could be detained simply because they do not have documents with them. Clearly, this is a violation of some of basic rights and enactment of such laws can have a detrimental impact on the development of the state as well as the entire society. Therefore, it seems clear that the federal government should make sure that people in all states can enjoy equal rights.
Another argument proposed by opponents of federalism is concerned with controversy and certain obscurity that is often created by federal and state laws. Thus, there is often an overlap and actions that are seen as acceptable in some states may be regarded as offence on the federal level. For instance, issues concerning cannabis are still disputable (Barbour & Wright 79). In many states, it is allowed to use cannabis for medical purposes. More so, in some states, the use of cannabis for recreational purpose is also legal. However, on the federal level cannabis is regarded as illicit substance and it is forbidden to use, produce or keep marijuana. Hence, a person may be imprisoned for an action which is quite legal on the state level but forbidden by the federal law.
Admittedly, this is a serious and rather justified argument. It is illogical to have to laws which overlap. However, the process of laws enactment is quite lasting and soon such overlapping laws may be developed into regulations which enforce each other. Each law is debatable and people are responsible for enacting effective laws. Thus, it is illogical to change the system which works pretty well because it has certain flaws associated with some aspects of the society functioning. It is possible to compare this situation to an individual’s unwillingness to drive a good car just because he/she does not like the odor of the car smell in it. It is easier to change the instead of buying a new car. Likewise, some controversial and overlapping laws may be changed.
Finally, opponents of federalism argue that the system is far from being perfect in terms of representation. As far back as the 19th century, people stressed that the USA is a big country and its government is constituted by numerous representatives. Brutus stress that these representatives (when they start their work in the federal government) may forget about their voters and fail to meet their expectations (par. 26). This is a serious concern and people tend to use the arguments in their attempts to change the political system. Clearly, it is possible that representatives of a state may focus on federal laws and forget about needs of people living in the state.
However, the argument is rather weak as opponents forget about a very important detail. Representatives are chosen by people living in a state and it is their responsibility (or rather their right) to vote for a person who will defend their rights and will enact laws which will be favorable for them. Obviously, it is possible to think of some measures which would minimize the chance of laws violations by representatives.
Taking into account the arguments for and against the US Constitution, it is possible to assume that it establishes a practical and sustainable form of democratic self-government. Admittedly, the USA is a diverse country where people pertaining to different cultures live and collaborate. Each state can be seen as an area where certain characteristics prevail and, thus, it needs a great deal of freedom when it comes to laws enactment. Nonetheless, the federal government gives sufficient amount of freedom to states and focuses on laws that contribute to the development of the entire nation. The federal government also makes sure that state laws do not violate people’s rights.
In conclusion, it is possible to note that the federalism is still a topic of a heated debate but the system has proved to be effective. Opponents of the American political system provide some arguments and highlight flaws of federalism. However, it is doubtless that the system has worked successfully for more than a century as the USA is now one of the most powerful countries in the world. Clearly, it is simply irresponsible to change the system that has proved to be efficient even though it may have some imperfections.
Barbour, Christine, and Gerald C. Wright. Keeping the Republic: Power and Citizenship in American Politics. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press, 2012. Print.
De Tocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2003. Print.