California Government: Section Readings Key Points
Federalism as a System of Government
The government of the United States of America is a federalist system which is composed of the federal governments, state governments, and local, county, city and township governments. The smaller governments are the creation of state government (See Greenberg, p. 44). “Federalism is a system under which significant government powers are divided between the central government and smaller units, such as states. A federal system can be contrasted with two other common types of government: a confederation and a unitary government. In a confederation, the constituent states get together for certain common purposes by retain ultimate authority and can veto major central government actions.In a unitary system, the central government has the power and can change its constituents units or tell them what to do” (Greenberg, p. 44, 45). The United Nations is an example of a confederation; France is an example of a unitary system.
The federalist form of government formed at the time of the Constitution was a compromise between the confederation form which had failed under the Articles of Confederation and the unitary form, which most states did not want. Most countries which have federalist systems have diversity among regions in the country which make federalism more suitable than a unitary form of government. “Federalism is embodied in the U.S. Constitution in two main ways: (1) Power is expressedly given to the states, as well as to the national government, and (2) the states have important roles in choosing officials for the national government” (Greenberg, p. 46).
The Supremacy Clause guaranteed that the central government is the highest authority in the U.S. However, the types of laws and acts the federal government can pass are listed in the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment reserves the rights not granted to the federal government to the states. The Interstate Commerce Clause, however, helps to expand the role of the federal government by giving it the power to make all laws that are ‘necessary and proper’ for the regulation of interstate commerce. The states also play a large role in the election of federal officials; it is that states that determine who can vote for the members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Electoral College instead of the popular vote determines the presidential elections.
The Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution helps to guide states with relationship to each other; each state’s citizen’s rights under state law must be recognized by other states. This part of the Constitution has been used to get states to recognize things such as same-sex marriage. Additionally, interstate compacts, or agreements between a limited number of states, requires Congressional approval.
Since federalism was established in the U.S., there has been a debate over the nationalist position versus the states’ rights position. Nationalist believe the Constitution is a compact between the people and that the phrase ‘we the people’ along with the necessary and proper clause suggest the intention of a strong centralized government. States’ rights advocates believe that the Constitution is a compact between the states. They base this on the fact that the Constitution was written by representatives of the states and the Senate requires equal representation of the states. They believe that the national government is of limited size and duties; they often believe in dual sovereignty, or the concept that when eth duties of state and federal government overlap, each is sovereign.
The founding fathers of the United States of America intended to create a federalist system that is made up of both state governments and a federal government. The founding fathers actually believes that state governments should possess most of the power of government. In the Federalist papers, James Madison argued that the powers reserved for the federal government of limited and few whereas the powers granted to the states are numerous and unlimited (Rooke).
At the time of its inception, the United States Constitution intended that the majority of lawmaking power would rest within the state governments. There was a shift, however, in governmental power from the state governments to the federal government in 1789 due in large part to the interpretation of the interstate Commerce clause. The shift was slow, however, allowing states to retain control over commerce within the state until the early 1900s. In the 1930’s the federal government’s powers expanded under the Interstate Commerce Clause through the courts. In the 1960s, the court use the Interstate Commerce Clause to uphold federal civil rights statutes; in Heart of Atlanta Motel v. United States (1964), the court ruled that even though the established, which served only whites at that time, was a local establishment which catered only to locals, some of the food that the establishment served originated outside of the state of Georgia giving the federal government authority under the Interstate Commerce Clause. In fact, under this reasoning, the federal government through the commerce power could be seen to have an “unlimited federal grant of authority” (Rooke).
Between 1986 and 2005, some of the power of the federal government under the Interstate Commerce Clause began to scale back; federal laws based on the commerce clause were rejected. Federal drug laws based on interstate commerce were often rejected making it tough for the federal government to regulate drugs in America. However, in 1970 Congress found that drugs travelled in and impacted interstate Commerce, therefore, federal drug laws could be sustained.
There is a question as to whether the federal government has the authority to regulate medical marijuana. In several states it is legal for a person to grow and use medical marijuana to treat and deal with pain and symptoms associated with several diseases and medical conditions. The federal government seized some of the product and arrested some of those growing marijuana for medical purposes in California. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that locally grown and used marijuana is not involved in interstate commerce. The cases was appealed to the Supreme Court. “the question presented in this case is whether the power vested in Congress by Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution ‘t[o] make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution’ its authority to ‘regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States’ includes the power to prohibit the local cultivation and use of marijuana in compliance with California law” (Stevens,).
In this case the federal government use the federal Controlled Substances Act as a justification for federal agents to seize and destroy cannabis plants being grown and used lawfully under California’s Compassionate Use Act of 1996. The affected persons sough injunctive and declaratory relief from the acts of federal agents. One of the issues in deciding the case is that fact that marijuana does in fact has legitimate medical and therapeutic uses. The court agrees that Congress has the right to regulate purely local activities which affect interstate commerce in some way. “Thus establishes that Congress can regulate purely intrastate activity that is not itself ‘commercial,’ in that it is not produced for sale, if it concludes that failure to regulate that class of activity would undercut the regulation of the interstate market in that commodity” (Steven, p. 22). The courts consider the fact that leaving home grown marijuana out of federal regulation may draw the marijuana into the interstate commerce market due to its high demand. Furthermore, the Court considers that fact that the Controlled Substance Act covers a number of ‘drugs’ with useful medical purposes. It is easy to see how homegrown personal use marijuana would have an impact on interstate commerce because of its high demand. Furthermore, the Court reasoned that the Supremacy Clause makes the growers actions within federal reach when it vacated the Court of Appeals ruling. In Sandra Day O’Connor’s article “Federal Regulation of Medical marijuana Usurpation of State Authority,” the author disagrees with the Supreme Court’s ruling, saying in part, “State autonomy is a relevant factor in assessing the means by which Congress exercises its powers under the Commerce Clause” (O’Conner, 27).
California Government Has Failed Us
The article discuss the right of citizens of a state to nullify government and institute a new one. The author feels that the California government is failing so terribly that the old government needs to be abolished and a new one instituted. “Those were the rights and responsibilities that Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence, stating that governments derive their power from the consent of the governed and that whenever a government becomes destructive to the governed, it is a people’s solemn right and duty to alter or abolish it” (Wunderman, 2008).
Greenberg and Poye. “America’s Democratic Republic.” NY: Pearson Longman, 2005.
Rooke, John T. “You Decide 2007.” NY: Pearson Longman, 2007.
O’Connor, Sandra Day. “Federal Regulation of Medical Marijuana: Usurpation of State
Stevens, John Paul. “Federal Regulation of Medical Marijuana Appropriate National Power.”
Wunderman, Jim. “California Government Has Failed Us.” 21 August, 2008.