How to Talk to A Liberal: Federalism Prevents the Abuse of Power

One of the features of the Constitution designed to protect individuals from the abuse of power by government is the creation of federalism. Federalism is the sharing of sovereignty between the states and the national government, sovereignty being, “the ultimate authority to govern […],” (Patterson, 2008, p. 69). This structure of government was innovated for the purpose of creating a strong national government for the United States, while still providing restraints to enable the states to maintain some of their sovereignty. By dividing authority between these two entities, federalism creates a check and balance system between federal and state governments to prevent an abuse of power. According to Alexander Hamilton, “If [the people’s] rights are invaded by either, they can make use of the other as the instrument of redress,” (Patterson, 2008, p. 71).

This feature of the Constitution has been the cause of much debate in several prominent Supreme Court cases over the past 5 years. For example, in 2012 the Supreme Court struck down an Arizona immigration law attempting to take federal law enforcement into the state’s hands, (Washington Post, 2012). Another example is found in the 2013 Supreme Court decision regarding California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage inside the state’s borders. The court refused to take up the case, thereby, “[leaving] in place a lower court’s decision that the ban is unconstitutional,” (Washington Post, 2013). Both of these controversies have opened up a national dialogue as to where states’ authority ends and federal authority begins.


Barnes, R. (2012, June 25). Supreme Court upholds key part of Arizona law for now, strikes down other provisions. Washington Post. Retrieved January 15, 2014, from

Barnes, R. (2013, June 26). At Supreme Court, victories for gay marriage. Washington Post. Retrieved January 15, 2014, from

Patterson, T. E. (2008). The American Democracy. New York City, New York: McGraw-Hill.


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