How does Federalism Limit Government Power?

What is Federalism and its Key Features? Where did the National Government get its Powers? How does Federalism limit the Powers of the Government? What are the Situations that limit the Powers of Federalism?

With the uprising and achievement of freedom from colonial rule, various countries established democracy and their own government to manage the nation and its affairs. World War II hastened the demand for freedom in countries because of the irreparable damage done to the people. However, after the establishment of democracies, there was a need for certain power that can keep a check on the Government, and then comes Federalism. Today you will learn about how does federalism limit government power? How are federal powers limited? So, let’s begin and know how does federalism limits government power. 

1. What is Federalism?

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The mixed form of government that includes general government with the regional government in a single political system of a country is known as federalism. This division of regions also divides the power between these two governments. Here, general government refers to the central or federal government. State, territorial, subunits, or provincial governments are parts of the regional government. Countries like Argentina, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Australia, etc. have federal provinces. (See Why do We Need a Government?)

2. What are the Features of Federalism?

Why not learn about the features of federalism before knowing about how does federalism limit government power? Along with the division of powers as its main feature, federalism has a long list of features that makes it a desirable and adequate system of managing and controlling government.

  • Constitution above all: Every power that is vested in different sections of the government namely, judiciary, executive, and legislature has only one source and that is the constitution. Not just this, but the existence of every governmental institution is controlled by the constitution. The supremacy of government is necessary for the smooth functioning of different sections.
  • Written and Rigidity of the Constitution: The federal government and its powers are written and documented specifically. It provides clarity and gives supreme authority to the constitution to handle these affairs. Also, the rigidity of the constitution makes it impossible to change or influence the powers of federalism in favor of state governments.
  • Judiciary: A well-set judicial system supports the smooth functioning and harmony between the state and regional government. There are instances when disputes arise and, in this situation, the judiciary interprets the constitution and takes action according to it. In this way, the dispute was also resolved without partiality. Thus, it acts as the binding authority for all the other authorities of the nation. 

3. Why was Federalism adopted?

With the establishment of democracy and liberty, the founding members of nations decided that there should be a need for a federalist government. Different reasons that led to this idea were:

  • To allow more participation in politics
  • To enable the states to act as laboratories for new ideas and programs for the well-being of the citizens
  • To avoid tyranny
  • To reduce and avoid the concentration of power in the hands of one single person or a group
  • To prevent damage to the entire nation by a rash decision applied in a certain region of the nation

4. Where did the National Government get its Power?

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The constitution of the nation entrusted the national government with different powers namely, delegated powers, implied powers, and inherent powers. Here is a brief description of the powers of the national government, that you should be aware of before knowing about how does federalism limit government power.

  • Delegated Powers: The Authority to mint money, regulate commerce, support the armed forces, establish the post office, and to even declare war is vested in the list of delegated powers mentioned in the Constitution. Therefore, sometimes it is also referred to as expressed or enumerated powers. Overall there are 27 such powers in the list of delegated powers that the government is vested with.
  • Implied Powers: It is not particularly mentioned in the constitution but can be added with a clause. Under this power, the government gets the power to make necessary and proper laws that are required for the smooth functioning and execution of the foregoing powers. It guides the enactment of other powers that are vested in the government by the constitution. The court handles the decision of whether power is implied or not. 
  • Inherent Powers: These are also not listed in the constitution, but these powers grew with the existence of the government, like the right to expand or occupy the territory and claim the right to call it a part of the nation.

5. How does Federalism limits Government Power?

Federalism is the sole form in which the power of the entire nation is not in one hand. Here you may find a glimpse of how does federalism limit government power. It is divided which is why the decision about a certain region or state is not solely decided by one person, president, or prime minister. Instead, there are discussions and meetings in which the best possible ways are figured out to work further. Moreover, federalism limits the powers of the government by exercising its enumerated powers.

The division of power between the federal and regional governments is clearly mentioned and outlined in the constitution of the countries. This keeps in check the concentration of power in a few hands. Every country allows regional self-government to some extent, but the rules in the federation about self-government are firmly established and cannot be changed easily. So, how does federalism limit government power? Here you will see that the power of the government is segregated by creating both state and national (central) powers, thus limiting government and making them share all the responsibilities. Must read What were the Strengths of the Articles of Confederation? 

6. What are Reserved Powers?

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Another set of powers that are mentioned and recognized by the constitution are reserved powers. Even though they are not listed specifically, they are guaranteed under specific amendments of the constitution. For example, in the constitution of the United States, it is mentioned as powers that are not delegated by the constitution, not prohibited by it to the states, and are reserved to the States or the people respectively. Such powers include conducting elections and setting up a local government. Must read 9 Features of Indirect Democracy.

7. What are the Powers that both Federal and State Governments have?

Despite the distinctions, a set of powers that both state and federal governments have known as concurrent powers. In the constitution, concurrent powers are to be shared by both the federal government and state governments. It includes building roads, creating lower courts, and having the power to tax. (See What Makes and Enforces Public Policy in Real?)

8. How are Federal Powers Limited?

Even though it has the power to limit government powers, certain situations where the federal powers are also limited. Here is a list of such situations:

  • If the matter is not about interstate commerce.
  • If the matter does not involve individual rights under the constitution, the federal powers are limited and the state can control its own affairs.
  • The federal government cannot command the state government to enforce federal law.

So, today you learned about how does federalism limit government power and what were the reasons behind it. The answer to how are federal powers limited in themselves are in the hands of the judiciary and the way it controls it. By the way, did you notice the set of powers that seem to be the answer to how does federalism limit government power? (See Which countries have unlimited government?)

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