Home Supreme Court Criticisms 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 provided 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 states 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
The United States a free trade zone.

The 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 independent sovereignty, A 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 the 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”.