15 Federalism Examples

federalism examples definition

Federalism is a mixed form of government that combines a central (federal) government with regional governments (provincial, state, territorial, etc.).

Federalist nations divide power between the central government and the regional governments.

Federalism was first adopted in the union of states during the Old Swiss Confederacy (Forsyth, 1981, p. 18), but several countries have federal and regional governments today.

These include the U.S., the UK, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and many more.

This article will cover ten examples of federalist principles and five real-life examples of federalist forms of government.

Federalism Examples

1. Supremacy Clause

The Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article VI, Clause 2) states that the Constitution, the federal laws, and treaties made under its authority constitute the supreme law.

These laws thereby supersede any conflicting state laws. The original text reads:

“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding” (U.S. Const. art. VI, cl., 2).

See Also: Implied Powers Examples

2. States Rights

States’ rights are political powers held for the state governments rather than the federal government.

More specifically, this reflects the enumerated powers of Congress and the Tenth Amendment.

The enumerated powers are those explicit powers of Congress stated in the U.S. Constitution (U.S. Const. art. I, § 8). These include the power to lay and collect taxes, coin money, establish post offices, provide a Navy, and many more.

The Tenth Amendment is the major expression of the principle of federalism in the Constitution of the United States.

It states that the federal government has only those powers delegated to it by the Constitution and that all other powers not forbidden to the states are reserved to each. In other words, it set out that the federal government has limited powers.

The original text reads as follows:

“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people” (U.S. Const. amend. X).

3. Commerce Clause

The commerce clause describes an enumerated (expressed) power of Congress.

The clause states that the United States Congress shall have the power to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes” (U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 3).

Each of these three can be seen as a separate power granted to Congress, which is why the terms Foreign Commerce Clause, Interstate Commerce Clause, and Indian Commerce Clause are used today.

4. Conduct of Elections (State Jurisdiction)

In the United States, elections for government officials are held on three levels: federal, state, and local.

At the federal level, the president is elected by the people of each state through an Electoral College.

At the state level, each state has an elective governor and legislature. At the local level, there are elected officials elected by the people of a county, city, town, township, borough, or village.

Most aspects of elections in the U.S. are regulated by state laws, not at the federal level. All elections are administered by individual states, and parts of the system are delegated further down (Election Administration at State and Local Levels, n.d.).

5. Police Forces (State Jurisdiction)

In the U.S., the state police is a police body unique to each state. It has statewide authority to conduct law enforcement activities and investigations.

The state police enforce traffic laws, oversee the security of the state capitol complex, protect the governor, train new officers for local police forces, and support the local police in coordinating serious or complicated cases.

Such agencies usually operate under a state-level Department of Public Safety.

6. Coining Money (Federal Jurisdiction)

The fifth clause of the enumerated powers section of the U.S. Constitution highlights that coining money is in federal jurisdiction.

The clause states:

“[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin, and fix the Standard of Weights and Measures; . . .” (U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 5). The Supreme Court recognizes the exclusive power of Congress to coin money.

In addition to this, the Constitution prohibits all states from coining money: “No State shall […] coin Money” (U.S. Const. art. I, § 10, cl. 1). So the coinage of money is reserved for the federal level.

7. Declaring War (Federal Jurisdiction)

In the same list of the enumerated (expressed) powers of Congress in the Constitution of the United States, another separation of powers is set out regarding war.

It reads:

“[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To declare War, grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal, and make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water; . . .” (U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 11). This means that declarations of war can be made on the federal level.

8. Citizenship and Naturalization (Federal Jurisdiction)

U.S. nationality law details the conditions in which a person may hold United States nationality.

Domestic documents usually use citizenship and nationality interchangeably. More precisely, nationality refers to the legal means by which a person obtains a national identity.

Citizenship, on the other hand, refers to the relationship held by nationals who are also citizens.

According to the U.S. Constitution, Congress has the power to adopt a foreigner and clothe them with the privileges of a native citizen:

“[The Congress shall have Power . . . ] To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States; . . .” (U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 4).

9. Provision of Healthcare (State Jurisdiction)

The United States Constitution does not recognize an explicit right to healthcare.

There is no such constitutional right, but Congress has enacted numerous statutes regarding healthcare.

These statutes can be justified by reference to the elastic clause of the Constitution (Swendiman, n.d.).

10. Provision of Education (State Jurisdiction)

Similarly to the right to healthcare mentioned above, the U.S. Constitution does not recognize an explicit right to public education, but the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment applies to educational issues.

The Supreme Court concluded in Brown v. Board of Education:

“… in the field of public education the doctrine of “separate but equal” has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.

Therefore, we hold that the plaintiffs…are, by reason of the segregation complained of, deprived of the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the 14th Amendment” (Brown v. Board of Education, 1954).

The original equal protection clause reads:

“No State shall […] deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws” (U.S. Const. amend. I § 1).

Examples of Federalist Nations

1. United States of America

As the examples above show, the United States has a federal government and state governments.

Power is constitutionally divided between these entities. At first, federalism was a political solution to the problems with the Articles of Confederation.

Larry Gerston (2007, pp. 24-25) offered the following example of such a problem: The Articles of Confederation granted the Continental Congress the power to sign treaties and declare war, but it could not raise taxes to pay for an army.

The progression of federalism in the United States now includes early, dual, cooperative, and new federalism.

2. United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, federalism refers to a constitutional reform that divides legislative powers between two or more levels of government.

The UK is a constitutional monarchy governed through parliamentary democracy.

The UK also has a system of devolution from a central UK parliament and prime minister to the devolved legislatures of the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Parliament, and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

3. Canada

The government of Canada is divided into eleven entities: the national Government of Canada at the federal level and ten provincial governments at the regional level.

Each of these derives authority from the Constitution of Canada. In addition, there are three territorial governments in the far north.

4. Australia

As a constitutional principle, federalism was adopted in Australia at the beginning of the 20th century.

Six self-governing Australian Colonies were federated: New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria, and Western Australia.

There are also pseudo-states, known as territories, which are the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory. They have most state powers, but not all.

The nation as a whole remains a federation under the Constitution of Australia.

5. Mexico

Mexico has a national government of the United Mexican States that shares its sovereignty with the regional governments of the 31 individual Mexican states.

The federal government is further divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial, in much the same way as most other democratic nations.

Types of Federalism

Conclusion

Federalism is a mixed form of government that combines a central (federal) government with regional governments (provincial, state, territorial, etc.).

Such nations divide power between these different entities and usually establish a clear hierarchy where, in case of conflict, the federal government takes precedence over the regional governments.

Some of the oldest surviving federations in the world include the United States, Mexico, Switzerland, Canada, Brazil, and Australia.

References

Election Administration at State and Local Levels. (n.d.). Retrieved December 13, 2022, from https://www.ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/election-administration-at-state-and-local-levels.aspx

Forsyth, M. G. (1981). Unions of States: The theory and practice of confederation. Leicester University Press.

Gerston, L. N. (2007). American Federalism: A Concise Introduction. M.E. Sharpe.

Swendiman, K. S. (n.d.). Health Care: Constitutional Rights and Legislative Powers. Health Care.

U.S. Const. Warren, E. & Supreme Court Of The United States. (1953) U.S. Reports: Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483. [Periodical] Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/usrep347483/.

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Tio Gabunia is an academic writer and architect based in Tbilisi. He has studied architecture, design, and urban planning at the Georgian Technical University and the University of Lisbon. He has worked in these fields in Georgia, Portugal, and France. Most of Tio’s writings concern philosophy. Other writings include architecture, sociology, urban planning, and economics.

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This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

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