State Powers vs. Federal Powers

By Debbie Wuthnow

State Powers vs.
Federal Powers

Vaccine mandates. Healthcare. Election laws. Education.

Did you know that all these issues are largely under the realm of state authority—and are decided by the candidates you elect to state offices?

Your state legislators determine what topics your child learns in school next year, how secure your elections will be, how many unborn babies will be protected from abortion, and numerous other issues. Your governor holds the power of vetoing or approving such laws, and state judges are responsible for upholding them.

Consider these recent examples.

The California legislature passed a law mandating one semester of “ethnic studies” for high school students—enabling ideas such as Critical Race Theory to be taught. Meanwhile, various other states have passed laws banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools.

Eight states require all eligible voters in the state to be mailed an absentee ballot—something policy experts warn can open the door to fraud. Meanwhile, other states have restricted the use of mail-in voting in pursuit of election integrity.

The New York Department of Health (which is overseen by the governor) imposed a vaccine mandate on healthcare workers, while the governor of Texas recently signed an executive order prohibiting vaccine mandates by employers.

These differing laws and orders reflect the values of the lawmakers and governors of each state . . . and the voters who elected them.

This is by design. The founding fathers intended for most decisions to be made by state legislators for their own unique state. They recognized that that it would be unwise for Congress to attempt to balance the values of the citizens of Vermont and Florida, except in limited cases such as foreign policy.

James Madison stated, “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.

According to the Tenth Amendment, any power the Constitution has not given to the federal government or prohibited a state from holding belongs to the states or to the people. It is up to the voters of each state to decide how that power is stewarded, based on whom they elect to office.

Many voters (and candidates) have gotten it backwards, believing most powers concerning their lives are the duty of Congress—overlooking the influential role of the states.

As the boundaries instituted by the Constitution were forgotten or ignored, the federal government gradually assumed responsibility for many areas of governing that should belong to the states alone:

  • It created the federal Department of Education, although the Constitution never mentions education as a realm of federal authority.
  • It implemented massive social welfare programs—which are likewise nowhere to be found in the Constitution.
  • It passed the Affordable Care Act, despite the fact that healthcare is not listed in the enumerated powers given to Congress.

They’re not finished. For the past few months, Congress has attempted to pass several bills which would remove much of the states’ power to decide election laws. They also want to pass the American Families Plan -- which includes various “social infrastructure” provisions such as free universal pre-K. And we all are aware of the executive branch’s attempt to implement a vaccine mandate on private companies.

Informed voters who recognize the importance of state elections can counter this power shift.

Despite federal overreach over the past years, state governments still determine many issues, and state officeholders have the ability to assert their proper authority under the Constitution.

Most voters, when evaluating state candidates, do not realize the extent of their powers and responsibilities. Many do not vote in elections for state legislators and governors. They do not know who those candidates are and what they believe about the proper role of their office.

This is why iVoterGuide is expanding our candidate evaluations and will be covering statewide and state legislative elections in 37 states next year. We want to help voters discover what the candidates believe about the role of state and federal governments. It is vitally important.

Please share this article with your friends and family. And never forget that these sometimes-overlooked elections greatly influence, as James Madison said, “the lives, liberties, and properties of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the State.”

Note: One of our partners is Wallbuilders, an organization run by historian David Barton. If you would like to learn more about how the Constitution separates power between the federal and state governments, listen to this recent episode of Wallbuilders Live.

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