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"We the People" ratified the Constitution to form a national government strong enough to establish justice, provide for the common defense and general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty. Subsequent amendments expanded the power of the federal government, shifting power away from the states. Yet recently, the Supreme Court has aggressively limited federal protections for women, workers, disabled people and the environment, in a misguided attempt to protect the states. CAC’s Redefining Federalism project advances a vision of federalism that ensures states can act as the laboratories of democracy, while also allowing the federal government to address problems states cannot fully address alone.
The recent enactment of health care reform legislation has generated substantial debate. Some of the loudest voices have been state politicians critical of the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act, who claim that the Act violates our Constitution and principles of federalism. However, the words of the Constitution and the text of the Act itself tell a different story: the Act actually preserves the vibrant federal-state partnership that is the hallmark of our federalist system and falls well within Congress's constitutional powers.
On July 19, 2010, CAC released "Setting the Record Straight: The Tea Party and the Constitutional Powers of the Federal Government," which debunks the Tea Party's central claim that our country’s Founders established a sharply limited, weak national government, incapable of addressing national problems like the health care crisis in America.
Living constitutionalism is largely dead. So, too, is old-style originalism. Instead, there is increasing convergence in the legal academy around what might be called “new textualism.” The core principle of new textualism is that constitutional interpretation must start with a determination, based on evidence from the text, structure, and enactment history, of what the language in the Constitution actually means.
If federalism is about protecting the States, why not listen to them? In the last decade, the Supreme Court has reworked significant areas of constitutional law with the professed purpose of protecting the dignity and authority of the States, while frequently disregarding the States' views as to what federalism is all about. The Court has ignored the views of the States in two directions: striking down federal laws despite the nearly unanimous opinions of the States that a federal role is appropriate, and invalidating State initiatives despite impassioned calls by the States about the ambiguity of the federal interest and the need for State innovation. The Court, according to the States, is protecting federalism both too much and too little. Redefining Federalism is a book edited by Doug Kendall and published in 2004.