Home School Life Journal

Home School Life Journal ................................................................................................................painting by Katie Bergenholtz

High School American Government, part 4: Federalism, Dividing Governmental Power



1. Why federalism? Evaluate the arguments in favor of federalism. Give the argument for a compound republic.

Your student should list some of the following benefits of federalism.


  • division of power between nation and state
  • enforces its own laws directly on its citizens
  • neither the nation or state can change the division of power without the consent of the other
  • increases opportunities to hold public office
  • improves governmental efficiency
  • ensures policy responsiveness
  • encourages policy innovation
  • manages conflict
2. What was the original design of Federalism? How does it differ from how it is carried out today?

The US Constitution originally defined American federalism in terms of powers that belong or denied to the national and state governments. The Founders placed a larger emphasis on the powers of state and local governments to make public policy than is placed on them today.

3. Trace the evolution of American Federalism.
  • Supreme Court's broad interpretation of national power
  • national government's victory over the secessionist states in the Civil War
  • the establishment of a national system of civil rights based on the 14th amendment
  • growth of national economy governed by Congress under its interstate commerce power
  • National government's accumulation of power through its greater financial resources
4. Describe how the use of federalism leads to theories of political behavior.
  • Expansion of national government authority in the 1960's
  • Growth of new areas of government involvement
    • fiscal federalism
    • environment federalism
    • competitive federalism
  • Existence of problems that affect multiple and different levels of government
5. Assess how court decisions in recent decades have impacted federalism.
  • Gun Free School Zone act of 1990; 1995 was found unconstitutional because it exceeded Congress' powers under the Interstate Commerce Clause
  • Seminole Tribe v. Florida, 1996, 11th amendment shields states from lawsuit by private parties that see to force states to comply with federal laws enacted under the commerce power.
  • Alden vs. Maine, 1999, states are shielded from lawsuits in which private parties seek to enforce federal mandates.
  • Supreme Court invalidated the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act in 1997, siting that the law's command to local law enforcement officers to conduct background checks on gun purchasers violated the principle of separate state sovereignty.
6. What is direct democracy, who is responsible for it and how does it impact the distribution of power between the federal and state governments.  
  • direct democracy: people can initiate and decide policy questions without the intervention of elected officials
  • populists and progressives responsible for the widespread adoption of three forms of direct democracy: the initiative, referendum and recall.

7. Assess how federal grants have had an impact on state-national relations.

expanded powers in areas previously reserved to the states

8. Describe coercive federalism and explain how it has altered state-national relationships.

federal powers in local affairs has grown as a result of federal rules, regulations and guidelines established as conditions for the receipt for federal funds

High School American Government

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