Any explanation of the American legal system necessarily involves the principle of
As noted in Chapter 1, federalism is one of the hallmarks of the American constitu-
tional system: the fundamental division of authority between the national government in
Washington, D.C., and the 50 state governments. Each of the states has its own machinery
of government as well as its own constitution that empowers and limits that government.
Of course, the provisions of the state constitutions, as well as the statutes adopted by the
state legislatures, are subordinate to the provisions of the U.S. Constitution and the laws
adopted by Congress.
There are significant legal differences between the national government and the states.
Of course, the authority of the federal government extends throughout the United States
and its territories, whereas state authority is confined within state borders. The national gov-
ernment has sole authority to make treaties with other nations, enact laws governing the
high seas, coin money, regulate standards of weights and measures, regulate international
trade, regulate immigration and naturalization, and provide for the national defense. The
national government also has primary, although not exclusive, authority to regulate inter-
state commerce, which is a major source of federal legislative power.
The states, on the other hand, have exclusive authority over their own machinery of gov-
ernment. They have exclusive power to establish and control local governments (cities, coun-
ties, and townships). States have sole responsibility for conducting elections and apportion-
ing electoral districts, although in exercising these functions they must comply with federal
constitutional standards. States are the primary locus of the
—the power to
make laws in furtherance of the public health, safety, welfare, and morality. States also have
primary (though no longer exclusive) authority over commerce within their borders.
The federal government and the states also possess a number of