For around two centuries, the relationship between the state governments and the federal government has been steadily shifting toward national supremacy. However, in recent years, the interplay of power between the two has been moving back toward the dominance of states. Before the Civil War, the most severe defenders of the states were mainly white residents of the South who had feared that the federal government would impinge on the slave system. The triumph of the Union in the Civil War was expected to end the era of states’ rights. By the 1890s, the southern legislatures of states had imposed the subordination and segregation of their Black citizens, making the rights of states taking the form of Jim Crow (Urofsky).
Former presidents Nixon, Reagan, and Bush have made attempts at decreasing the influence of the federal government under the slogan of “New Federalism” (Katz). For example, when Richard Nixon became the US President in 1969, he initiated a plan for revenue sharing that channeled federal funds back to states without tying any strings to categorical grants. Later, the Reagan Administration established policies and a budget that had significantly modified the connections between the federal government and states. As a result of this, the federal support for states decreased, with the President pushing to transform categorical grants into block grants, thus having broader categories and few strings. Since New Federalism implied that states had to mainly pay the tab for their new responsibilities, the Reagan Administration was scrutinized because of weakening US states with debt, which was the opposite effect compared to what was intended initially.
Today, the problem of the good balance between the state and national powers is as relevant as it was two to three centuries ago, which means that the rights of states have remained a debated topic for decades. Therefore, the modern form of federalism in the country is very complex and is at the heart of many issues that exist in government today, such as who should have control over education policy or reproductive rights. The successors of Teagan, such as McConnel and Gingrich, “stripped the central state of its dynamism, frustrating the efforts of Democratic Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to build on the legacies of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson” (Gerstle). The dysfunction of the federal government’s work, as shown in the current administration’s handling of the pandemic, is not solely the creation of the existing government but rather a symptom of misunderstanding and the lack of balance between the federal and state governments.
In the current circumstances, it is not surprising that the healthcare system of the US has been ineffective in addressing the latest healthcare concerns, with states having to increase their power and take it under their control, with governors, and not senators or the President, emerging as initiators of change. At this time, states are working on creating a new version of federalism, which implies pushing back against the directives from Washington, developing new competencies, launching new schemes associated with both interstate and public-private cooperation, as well as intimidating the federal government into providing vital resources and establishing important partnerships.
The increased power of US states and their prevalence over the federal government resulted in their work becoming highly important for the nation. The work of states has turned into an important strategic resource for the country, showing that the concentration of power in one governmental branch may result in unfavorable consequences. As pointed out by Gerstle for The Atlantic, “though diminished across the middle third of the 20th century by a Warren Court rightly intent in making them subservient to the federal Bill of Rights, the states […] had begun to discover that their police power was still robust.” On one essential issue after another, including climate change matters, same-sex marriage, minimum wage increases, and immigrant rights, state governments have begun showing the federal government how they could find their ways into a progressive future of the US.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to note that states are not capable of gaining the level of power they need alone. There are too many states, and some of them will not agree with the positions that others hold. In addition, states do not have the same amount of resources that the federal government possesses, which makes them unable to make fully independent policy decisions. Without the assistance of the federal government and an establishment of a balanced relationship with the President’s administration, states cannot promote the interests of their citizens. Therefore, without the assistance of the federal government, states cannot succeed, even though the moves toward new federalism have the potential to stand. The state can be used as innovators and facilitators of progress while the federal government can act as a resource allocator.
Gerstle, Gary. “The New Federalism.” The Atlantic, 2020, Web.
Katz, Bruce. “Nixon’s New Federalism 45 Years Later.” Brookings, 2014, Web.
Urofsky, Melvin. “Jim Crow Law.” Britannica, 2020, Web.