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Facts At Your Fingertips

The Supreme Court’s Role in Restoring Federalism
The Balance of Power

Federalism is a system of government that balances power between the federal government and some other entities, like states. In the United States, the Constitution establishes the limits of federal power and reserves all other decisions to the individual states. In the twentieth century, power shifted from states to the federal government.

Expansive Interpretations

Beginning with decisions made about during New Deal, powers usually reserved to the states were gradually granted to the federal government. Limits on the federal government’s ability to spend money were expanded. The Supreme Court also expanded the interpretation of what constituted interstate commerce, leading to more authority for Congress to regulate economic activity.

The Spending Clause

The interpretation of the spending clause has expanded from public goods to almost anything that could benefit an individual. As a result, spending authority has risen along with taxation to pay for it.

The Commerce Clause

The interpretation of the commerce clause has expanded to include just about any economic activity, even if it does not cross state lines. As a result, Congress currently has the authority to regulate many behaviors that do not appear to affect commerce at all.

Protecting Individual Rights

The framers of the Constitution created a federalist system that balances power between the federal government and the states specifically to prevent the concentration of power by the central government. They had witnessed the consequences of the centralization of power in other countries and sought to limit the ability of the government to violate the newly established rights of its citizens.

Restoring Federalism

The Supreme Court can put the country back on path toward federalism and limited government by ruling on cases that involve the spending and commerce clauses. By returning to the original understanding set out in the Constitution, the Court can limit legislative excesses and better promote individual liberty.