What is federalism according to the US definition

United States

Prof. Dr. Peter Lösche

To person

Prof. em. Dr. Peter Lösche, taught at the Department of Political Science at the Georg-August University in Göttingen. His work focuses on politics and society in the USA, parties and associations as well as party and election campaign financing.

Anyone who wants to understand the degree and intensity of the fragmentation of the political system in the United States must - despite some centralization tendencies that have existed in the last century - keep federalism in mind and always think about it.

Every state is different, not just with its own license plate ... (& copy AP)

In a federally structured political system, the competences are divided between the central state and a more or less large number of sub-states on the basis of constitutional or legal regulations or on the basis of tradition. Often there is a third level in addition to that of the federal government and the sub-states, namely that of the municipalities. In federalism, the principle of power sharing, even power diffusion, is anchored institutionally.

Separation of federal and individual states

In the United States, the division of responsibilities is governed by the constitution. Article I, Paragraph 8 enumerates the powers assigned to the federal legislature (enumerated powers). The tenth additional article then expressly states that those competences that are not assigned to the federal government fall to the individual states or to the citizens. From the point of view of the constitutional fathers, the federal government and the individual states should belong carefully to separate spheres. This can still be seen today in the financial constitution. So it is conceivable that a citizen is assessed three times for income tax in a certain place, that of the federal government, that of the individual state and that of the municipality.

In the 50 individual states of the USA, the division of powers between the legislature, executive and judiciary, which also characterizes the federal government, is repeated - albeit in very different ways. With the exception of the state of Nebraska, two chambers exist side by side in all states. The governor is the chief executive who is directly elected by the people. In general, elements of direct democracy are pronounced in the individual states. In addition to the governor, the most important positions in the executive branch, but in some states also the members of the Supreme Court, are often determined by direct election. There are referendums, referendums and referendums, but also the recall, namely the voting out of elected politicians or judges. In California, for example, Governor Gray Davis, who had been confirmed in office almost a year earlier, was voted out by the people in the fall of 2003 and replaced by the former actor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At the beginning of US history and for more than a century, the principle of dual federalism enshrined in the constitution was very pronounced: the federal and state spheres were clearly separated. The individual states regulated the social, economic and political conditions on site. The activities of the federal government remained essentially limited to foreign and defense policy and to a minimum of internal tasks, such as trade with the Indian tribes. Initially, the federal system was dominated by the individual states, the number of which had grown from the original 13 by 1860 to 33. This dual federalism corresponded to the economic and social conditions of an agricultural society. It prevailed until the end of the twenties of the last century.