This research paper will examine the struggle between state and federal power by looking at three examples where state and federal law have come into conflict. The argument behind this research paper will be that ultimately the federal government has the final decision in making laws.
In 2003, the federal government brought charges against Ed Rosenthal for possession of marijuana after being authorized by the City of Oakland to distribute the drug under Californian state law (Ryan 312). Nonetheless, Rosenthal was not able to present this argument during his trial because federal law does not recognize state laws regarding the legal use of marijuana (Ryan 312). Even though he was sentenced to five years in prison, the judge then decided to sentence him to one day in prison due to ‘unique circumstances’ (Ryan 312). As a result of this action, the federal government legislated the Truth in Trials Act to allow future defendants to raise the affirmative defense of acting in compliance with applicable state marijuana laws (Ryan 312). This demonstrates how much power the federal government ultimately has in the end. Despite the fact that Rosenthal was able to take his case to the federal government, they had the final say in deciding whether or not Rosenthal was guilty.
The problem with this situation is that it can create apparent conflicts between states and the federal government, but the latter still ultimately has the final say in the end. When Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore demanded probate judges to disregard a federal court order striking down the state’s ban on gay marriage, he said the federal courts have no dominion over state courts (Palazzolo, “Conflicts Mount Between State and Federal Courts”). State officials can be held in contempt for actions like this, which is why U.S. District Judge Callie Granade in Mobile scheduled a hearing to consider a request that she order probate judges to comply with her ruling (Palazzolo, “Conflicts Mount Between State and Federal Courts”). This demonstrates what little room states have to disobey federal law.
However, the Supreme Court can often find that a number of states challenge the federal government all at once. More recently, Obama’s attempt to regulate the curbing of greenhouse gas emissions will not be made legal until challenges by twenty-nine states and several business organizations have been resolved, which will not happen until 2017 (Davenport, “Obama and President Xi of China Vow to Sign Paris Climate Accord Promptly”). Therefore, states can only delay rather than stop federal laws all together through legal challenges.
In conclusion, it is clear that the federal government has the final say over laws that state governments try to challenge in the end. It was clear that the federal government was never going to allow Rosenthal to get away with possessing marijuana despite what state laws say about the issue. But the federal government did legislate a law that allows there to be exceptions made occasionally if defendants’ actions comply with state law. State officials can be held in contempt for going against federal laws. This is why Alabama found it incredibly difficult not to get away with not enforcing federal laws on gay marriage. Though twenty-nine states have successfully challenged Obama over regulations that can curb greenhouse emissions in accordance with the Paris Climate Accord, these states are only delaying federal legislation rather than stopping it all together. Therefore, federal laws will always remain supreme.
Davenport, Coral. “Obama and President Xi of China Vow to Sign Paris Climate Accord Promptly.” The New York Times website. The New York Times, 31 March 2016. Web. 2 April 2016.
Palazzolo, Joe. “Conflicts Mount Between State and Federal Courts.” The Wall Street Journal website. The Wall Street Journal, 10 February 2015. Web. 2 April 2016.
Ryan, Erin. Federalism and the Tug of War Within. New York: Oxford University Press USA, 2012. Print.