constitution

Federal versus State Power

Federal versus State Power

Federal versus State Power

Throughout American history and with the inception of the
United States Constitution, there has been an ongoing debate about the struggle
between
Federal and
State
power. The United States Constitution was provide
d a
structure by which the United States
Government
operates, while establishing a connection between the
Federal Government
and the states.

The U.S. Constitution had the purpose of filling in the
gaps of all unenumerated powers of the states in order to build a
Federal
framework of government. In the late 18th
Century,
when the U.S. Constitution was still being proposed and developed, its
proponents, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
,
maintained to critics that the Constitution had no intention of overpowering or
infringing upon the power of
State governments. Even so, other writers of
the Constitution did indeed have the intention of expanding the power of a
Federal Government
and felt that it was necessary. Today, it is not uncommon for disputes between
Federal and
State laws
to take place within
Federal court and State
supreme court.

Commerce Clause

The Commerce Clause is an enumerated power in
Article I, Section 8, Clause 3 of the United States Constitution stating that
Congress has the power “To regulate commerce with foreign nations, and
among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes”. The Commerce Clause
has extended its reach to Foreign affairs, Interstate Commerce, and Indian
Commerce and has been shown by interpreters as being an attempt to make the
United States a free trade zone.

Dispute still exists today about the range of powers that
the Commerce Clause grants to Congress. According to interpreters, James
Madison wrote the Commerce Clause to empower the new Federal Government to only
stop certain states from taxing foreign goods, while another
State did
not tax such goods, in addition to preventing the taxation of goods between the
states within the U.S. It has proven to be a central piece in the debate of
Federal
versus
State
power.

In the case of Cherokee
Nation v. Georgia, which was held in Federal court, was a case that argued the
rights of the Cherokee Indian tribe living within the State of Georgia
independently. The Cherokees accused the State of Georgia of enacting a series
of laws which stripped them of their rights in an effort to drive the tribe out
of the State.

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected
the arguments of the Cherokees, stating that as an independent sovereignty, the
Federal court had no jurisdiction over the tribe and the laws enacted by
Georgia remained. This showed, through the Federal court, that Indian tribes
within the United States were considered to be foreign nations, as mentioned in
the Commerce Clause.

Another case, United States v. Lopez, attempted to
spread the reach of the Commerce Clause to a criminal statute, which prohibits
the possession of guns near schools. Alfonso Lopez, a twelfth grade student,
was accused of possessing a gun in an Antonio, Texas high school. Congress was
accused of extending the power it had using the Commerce Clause to regulate
local economic activity in ways that the States had no power to do.

After he was convicted, he
appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, claiming that Congress did not
have the power to legislate using the Commerce Clause. The Court agreed and
reversed his conviction. This decision once again limited the powers of
Congress under the Commerce Clause.

Further Criticisms of the U.S. Supreme Court

According to constitutional scholar, Kevin
Gutzman, the Court has misused the Fourteenth Amendment to help limit the power
of states and State supreme court power. Justice Brandeis believed that states
and State supreme courts should be able to operate without direct interference
from Federal court and states should operate as “laboratories of democracy”
.

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