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Martha Derthick Reflections On American Federalism Essays

Demarcations and assessments of particular periods of American federalism typically focus attention on national–state relationships, and ignore the independent activities of the 50 states. Labels applied to a period are often based on the federalism stance taken by a president. One can think of Lyndon Johnson's “creative federalism,” Richard Nixon's “new federalism,” and Ronald Reagan's “new, new federalism.” President George W. Bush, unlike some of his recent predecessors, has not proclaimed his own distinct vision of federal relationships, and consequently efforts to describe and assess the character of federalism during his administration must rely on a review of policy actions (or inactions). Because a sole focus on national–state relations ignores the ability of state governments, either singly or in combination, to adopt policies different from those of the federal government, it is also necessary to examine this independent policy activism as part of any assessment of an era in American federalism.

This article begins with a discussion of state government response to the centralizing thrust of Bush policy proposals and his reversal of his party's previous stance supportive of states’ rights. To capture more fully the condition of federalism during the Bush presidency, the analysis then moves to an examination of independent policy action by state governments, or what Elazar (1972, 174) termed “federalism without Washington.” The essay concludes with an effort to explain how and why the “middle tier” in American federalism has been so assertive during the George W. Bush presidency.

State Governments Respond to Bush Initiatives

Compared to the “Devolution Revolution” that proceeded with the support of recent presidents (Nathan 1996, 5–13; Schram and Weissert 1997), the Bush administration reversed course and pursued policies designed to enhance national government control over domestic policy. It is an understatement to say that state governments in various combinations vigorously opposed the centralizing course embodied in the many Bush policy initiatives. Beginning with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) in 2001, bipartisan complaints grew year by year and turned rancorous at the 2006 annual National Governors Association conference at which the “… relationships between the governors and Washington [were described] as poisonous” (Broder 2006 August 9). The National Governors Association (NGA) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) disagreed with the publicly popular elimination of taxes on dividends and on estates. The Medicare Modernization Act was opposed by NGA and NCSL as well as by the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) and the National Association of County Officials (NACO). Joining NGA and NCSL in resisting passage of the REAL ID Act were the Council of State Governments (CSG) and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA). The Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) ban on the importation of prescription drugs was defied by several states, including Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. In fact, it is hard to identify any significant Bush policy initiative that was welcomed with bipartisan enthusiasm from state and local officials. While space does not permit a detailed review of each Bush policy initiative, a brief examination of several important policies can highlight the sources of the strong opposition voiced by state officials.

No Child Left Behind

The No Child Left Behind Act, the premier legislative triumph of Bush's first term in office, aroused an immediate and intense negative reaction from many state and local education officials that was soon joined by governors and state legislators. The new law “transformed federal education policy from one of a broad-based distributive but supplemental program of federal dollars to a policy based on performance standards and backed up by penalties for failure to achieve the standards” (Krane 2002, 10). As state and local officials worked to implement NCLB, they soon objected strenuously to the act's programmatic mandates, penalties, and timetables (McGuinn 2005, 58). Because NCLB's accountability regime raised the real possibility that large numbers of schools might fail to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks, which in turn could lead to the loss of federal funds, the act was seen as “… punitive and designed to identify problem schools without really dealing with the problems that are to be uncovered” (Greenblatt 2004, 40).

By 2004, debates on the Act became a common occurrence in many state legislatures, and state legislative resolutions demanding changes in or the repeal of NCLB quickly appeared. Some of the fiercest resistance emerged in strongly Republican states (Krane and Koenig 2005, 13). For example, Utah in April 2005 enacted legislation declaring the state's education law would have precedence over NCLB [the U.S. Constitution's supremacy clause notwithstanding]. Three dozen states proposed changes to relax the accountability standards and new lawsuits were filed by the nation's largest teachers union and by several school districts (Banchero 2005). This barrage of complaints forced the U.S. Department of Education to loosen the rules for calculating AYP scores, and after his reelection Bush replaced Secretary Paige with Margaret Spellings who signaled she was willing to engage in dialogue with state officials. These changes did not stop states from lobbying national officials for further modifications in the law's implementation.

Each side continued to press the other. By 2006, the U.S. Department of Education announced that no state had met the deadline for teacher qualification and only 10 states were granted full approval of their systems for testing students. Secretary Spellings declared “I want the states to know that Congress and the president mean business on the law,” and she judged the testing systems in Maine and Nebraska to be inadequate. This rejection was immediately labeled by Douglas Christensen, Nebraska education commissioner, as a “… mean spirited, arbitrary, and heavy-handed way …” of treating the state (Dillon 2006a). While the states were jousting with federal education officials over NCLB regulations, many state education boards and officials lowered scores for passing the mandatory tests and redefined the categories by which students were characterized; the effect of these alterations was to reduce the number of schools likely to be “in need of improvement” (Dillon 2003). This type of gamesmanship by the states brought criticism from corporate leaders and civil rights groups who pressured Secretary Spellings not to soften her stance toward state compliance (Dillon 2006a).

One sign that the state-national struggle over the best strategy for school improvement will not soon end was seen in Governor Jeb Bush's (R-FL) defense of his state's A-Plus program which grades schools A to F instead of NCLB's Pass or Fail: “I mean perfection is not going to happen … We’re all imperfect under God's watchful eye, and it's impossible to achieve it. With all due respect to the federal system, our accountability system is really the better way to go” (quoted in Dillon 2006b). Governor Bush made his remarks in response to Secretary Spellings’ stance that NCLB was “… 99.9 percent pure” and needed no changes. Governor Bush disagreed with Secretary Spellings by saying “Punitive actions don't work nearly as well … [and] accountability works better when it's viewed as a reward” (Dillon 2006b).

The current campaign to improve public schools began in the 1970s as states established minimum competency testing and grew into a national movement to create standards and accountability systems. Change occurred incrementally as states engaged in the not so easy task of altering school curricula and practices. The national government encouraged this voluntary effort through actions such as Goals 2000 and the Improving America's Schools Act. From the states’ perspective, NCLB's radical shift in education policy design from dialogue to dictation abandoned the incremental pace of change and imposed large-scale changes in school operations that would be difficult to achieve in the short time frame set by national law. This shift from voluntary to mandated action accounts for the high level of state resistance and guarantees the intergovernmental conflict over NCLB will continue into the foreseeable future.


Another source of state government resistance to the centralizing thrust of current federal policy is the 2005 REAL ID Act, which is part of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief Act (P.L. 109–13). Because all but one of the individuals who conducted the 9/11 attacks had obtained a driver's license, officials in the Department of Homeland Security and members of Congress concluded that state variation in the issuance of driver's licenses posed a serious security threat. Initially part of the debate over the language of the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108–458), the REAL ID Act created stricter standards for driver's licenses issued by states (Dinan and Krane 2006, 340–341), but little attention was paid during its passage to the impact of the new requirements (Marek 2006).

State government issuance of driver's licenses is an element of the highly decentralized organization of American law enforcement. The REAL ID Act not only abrogates traditional state control but also imposes an extremely large administrative burden on the states. Because the act appears to force the states to renew the license of every single one of the nation's 245 million drivers and end license renewal by mail, states will have to hire more personnel for their motor vehicle bureaus (n.b.: some estimate a doubling of their staff), purchase new equipment (computers, photocopiers, and digital recognition), link to national databases, and increase security at local bureaus. A September 2006 report released jointly by NGA, NSCL, and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) estimates REAL ID's cost to the states at more than $11 billion over five years (AAMVA 2006). Part of the report's analysis expects states to raise and even double the price of renewing driver's licenses. The report asks among other requests that the federal government extend the compliance deadline, provide the funds and electronic verification systems necessary for states to comply, implement a 10-year re-enrollment schedule, and allow the Homeland Security Secretary discretion to recognize state government innovations (AAMVA 2006).

Fierce opposition by those who believe the new driver's license will become a national identity card will complicate state government implementation of REAL ID. Groups as politically diverse as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the conservative CATO Institute, and the Libertarian Party oppose the new federal standards. ACLU has set up an internet website (REALnightmare.org) that itemizes “What's Wrong with REAL ID?”—it is REAL Invasive, REAL Red Tape, REAL Expensive, and REAL Pointless. A particular fear of civil libertarians is a centralized database of federalized IDs some see as a move toward a “police state.”(Eyre 2006).

The widespread opposition pits state governments against the national government's strategy to improve homeland security. Although governors and state legislators “share the concern for increasing the security and integrity of the driver's license and state identification processes,” (NGA 2005a), their initial concerns over the usual questions about the feasibility of administration and the sufficiency of the Act's funding has been reinforced by the privacy issue. State legislators, under pressure from different sides of the political spectrum, are drafting resolutions to bar their state from participating in the nationally uniform identity system. Maine in January 2007 passed a resolution objecting to the REAL ID Act, and in a few short weeks various bills opposing the Act were filed in at least 22 state legislatures (Miller 2007). While a few states (OR, IN, and MD) are moving to comply with REAL ID, most state motor vehicle departments have not begun to make the necessary changes. NCSL at its August 2006 annual meeting urged repeal of the REAL ID Act if Congress does not provide full funding by December 31, 2007. The grassroots resistance to REAL ID has prompted a bipartisan effort in the U.S. Senate to repeal the Act. On March 1, 2007 Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, under siege from state and local officials, agreed to give states an extra a year and half in which to comply with REAL ID (Mark 2007). Chertoff's action passed the intergovernmental implementation challenges of REAL ID to the next presidential administration.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)

While the sustained state–national conflict over the design and implementation of NCLB captured headlines, efforts to reauthorize the TANF block grant muddled along through 13 short-term extensions after the original authorization expired in September 2002. After his reelection, Bush made TANF a priority and the Republican majority in Congress approved the reauthorization measure as part of the Deficit Reduction Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 2005 (DRA). The new provisions authored by the Bush administration were enacted over the bipartisan objections of governors and public assistance officials. State officials were not thrilled over the transfer of $10 billion of program costs to the states nor were they pleased with the 2005 Act's new provisions that significantly constrained state government discretion over work rules. Predictably, state officials expressed anger because, in the words of Kansas State Representative Melvin Neufeld:

The new law abrogates the spirit and letter of the historic 1996 agreement … I would argue that the underlying philosophy of the original law has been altered. Gone is the deference to state innovation and creativity. Back are the federal decision-making handcuffs that characterized the old AFDC law (quoted in Tubbesing 2006, 21).

According to Michael Bird of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the new work participation requirements “virtually guarantee that every state will incur penalties and fail to meet the federally mandated work participation rates, until they reconfigure their programs”(quoted in Vestal 2006a).

To understand the intensity of state officials’ negative reactions to the new version of TANF, it is important to recall that the original law was “the most visible—and probably the most significant—example of devolution …” produced by the Republican House majority as it sought to fulfill its 1994 campaign promises known as the Contract with America (Schram and Weissert 1997, 4). The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act replaced the 61-year-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) entitlement with the TANF block grant, which markedly increased state government discretion over the use of federal welfare funds in exchange for insuring employable welfare recipients meet certain work requirements and for imposing a lifetime limit of five years of eligibility for welfare assistance.

TANF also enhanced state discretion to exempt those who are not employable from the work requirements, and it limited federal regulatory authority in a very defined fashion (Walker 2000, 163–165). TANF incorporated a number of innovative actions taken by state governments during the early 1990s as they experimented with new ways to improve state welfare-to-work programs (Gais et al. 2001). Republican governors in particular viewed TANF as a product of their work that was ratified by a historic compromise with Democratic president William Clinton to “end welfare as we know it.” The transfer of discretion and money to the states would not have been acceded to by Congress had it not been for the pressure applied by Republican governors (Weissert and Schram 1996, 15).

State officials used TANF's expanded flexibility to modify the old AFDC program primarily by strengthening work requirements and sharply reducing cash assistance (Meyers, Gornick, and Peck 2002), while also taking actions to reward work. Gais and Weaver (2002, 4) found that “Instead of a ‘race to the bottom’—a continuing expansion of restrictive policies and little or no expansion in access-enhancing policies—many states adopted both types of policies,” and after several years under TANF “there remains substantial heterogeneity in packages of state choices.”

The drastic reduction in state discretion contained in the reauthorization and the Department of Health and Human Services' new regulations governing its implementation eliminated many features that made TANF a block grant (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities 2007). States have made progress in moving unemployed persons to the workforce, but “most states’ work participation rates are currently below 35 percent,” and under DRA, “states must reach 50 percent for the year that starts in October 2006 or face substantial financial penalties—both the loss of grant funds and mandated increases in state TANF spending” (Tweedle 2006). The reauthorization reduces the ability of states to be innovative in addressing the needs of the remaining pool of unemployed who exhibit more serious barriers to employment which are more costly to remedy. DRA also restricts state latitude to reprogram TANF funds to other forms of social assistance such as those funded by the Social Services Block Grant—the effect of which is to make it more difficult to address an individual's employment barriers in a holistic and personal fashion.

The Bush administration used Georgia's revamped welfare system as a model other states could follow (Vestal 2006b), much as the “Texas model” of school testing was used as the template for NCLB. But while Bush lobbied successfully for increased federal funding for NCLB, he has held the line against increased funding for TANF, thus forcing states to bear any additional costs. Just as much of state government resistance to NCLB derives from implementation issues, the same can be said of states’ response to TANF. Research has consistently found that the states encounter considerable but predictable difficulties to institutionalize the purposes and rules of a major policy shift such as required by TANF (Gais et al. 2001, 60–61). New regulations, less funding, and short time-lines make it hard for states to change their administrative procedures and avoid the penalty of losing federal funds. It should be no surprise state officials are upset and agree with Elaine M. Ryan, deputy executive director of the American Public Human Services Association, when she said “You had fixed block grants in exchange for state flexibility. Now you have fixed block grants in exchange for federal micromanagement … That was not the deal” (quoted in Goldstein 2006a).

Medicaid Reform

Not all domestic policy domains exhibit the degree of state–national rancor characterizing the running battles over NCLB, REAL ID, and TANF. Because Medicaid is a joint national–state funded program, unlike Medicare which is federally funded, state governments are more directly involved in any reform effort, many of which begin with the states. Also, unlike welfare policy, Medicaid recipients are viewed as deserving assistance, and the program's scale has created a significant economic presence in localities throughout the country. The key issue faced by both levels of government is the necessity to slow the unrelenting rise in the program's costs which consume 20 per cent of state expenditures.

Nathan (2005, 1465) describes the evolution of Medicaid as being driven by “a state-push factor” which he explains is “… the product of state initiatives … as states have taken measures in recent years to protect and expand their Medicaid programs in the face of Washington's efforts to damp down the growth of the program.” An excellent example of “state-push” is the NGA's 2005 report on Medicaid reform which took a sweeping five pronged approach to health care. The bipartisan proposals sought not only to control costs but also to broaden substantially the discretion available to state officials so that they could redesign their state's program without having to “… still jump through significant hoops in order to make relatively minor changes to their Medicaid programs” (NGA 2005b, 6). The federal government spends nearly 8 per cent of its total budget on Medicaid, and it is easy to understand why the Bush administration was sympathetic to the states (Goldstein 2006b). Many of the NGA's proposals were adopted in the 2005 DRA, and as a result, the changes in Medicaid are seen as “truly state-friendly” (Tubbesing and Wilson 2006, 21).

State–national skirmishes over Medicaid occurred before and after the adoption of the 2005 reforms. During legislative maneuvering to create the new Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit, governors of both parties fought hard against the “phased-down state contribution,” or “clawback provision,” which requires states to return to the federal government a percentage of monies the states would have spent on medicines for those who were “dual-eligibles” in the Medicaid and Medicare programs (Dinan and Krane 2006, 340). Most recently, state officials find themselves at odds with the White House over the level of funding for the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) because 17 states face federal aid shortfalls that would result in children being denied health care (Broaddus and Park 2006). At the winter 2007 NGA meeting, governors of both parties appealed to Congress and the president to release additional funds (Pear 2007). Governors also expressed opposition to the $25 billion reduction over five years in Medicaid monies proposed in the president's FY2008 budget. Battles over federal aid are nothing new; what is important in Medicaid policy is the greater latitude given to states to make changes and to test alternative ideas for improving the quality of care as well as the program's efficiency. The new state discretion in Medicaid contrasts starkly with the mandates imposed by NCLB, REAL ID, and TANF.

Big Government Conservatism

Strong negative responses by many state officials to the centralizing direction of Bush initiatives in education, welfare, and homeland security also characterize other policy areas such as disaster response and emergency management, energy conservation, and taxation. Prior to the Bush presidency scholars routinely noted the era of cooperative federalism had declined substantially during the 1970s and 1980s, and by the 1990s an era of coercive federalism was well entrenched (Kincaid 1990). While cooperation between the states and Washington can be found in some policy areas, the current pervasiveness of conflict poses the question of why have national–state relations become so acerbic under Bush?

It is instructive to recall the influence Republican governors exercised during the heady days of the 1994 “Republican Revolution” in Congress. Two-thirds of the states, including eight of the ten most populous states, had Republican governors, and they used the NGA as a vehicle for applying pressure on their congressional co-partisans to transfer power to the states as well as enacting their policy preferences in federal law. Speaker Gingrich, the architect of the Contract with America, declared “We regard you [the Republican governors] as full partners in the process of creating a better 21st century America for our children” (Weissert and Schram 1996, 16). In 1998 when Clinton tried to replace his 1993 executive order on federalism and Reagan's 1987 executive order, state and local officials forced Clinton to suspend his 1998 order and replace it a year later with one more acceptable to state governments (Schram and Weissert 1999, 19–20).

George W. Bush, handpicked by the Republican governors as their presidential candidate in 2000, was expected to be attentive to state concerns, and he certainly sounded this theme on the campaign trail (Kincaid 2001, 47–50). However, once in office, Bush's decision to govern as a “big government conservative” and to intervene in state and local matters as well as to preempt state authority ignited opposition from state and local officials of both parties. The legislation put forward by President Bush represents more than the next step in expanding federal power, his initiatives reflect a belief that state and local governments are not essential to his policy goals. Instead, Bush relies on an expansion of federal authority to achieve his “compassionate” policy goals.

Unlike his recent predecessors, Bush has not established a specific unit for intergovernmental relations within the White House. While Bush did issue a memorandum creating an Interagency Working Group on Federalism, the group has not produced any discernable product nor has Bush issued an executive order related to federalism. Similarly, congressional Republicans have not shown much solicitude for state governments. U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) lamented “I’ve been disappointed to find so few voices in the United States Senate who respect the prerogatives of governors and mayors to make their own decisions. The conservatives are just as bad as liberals at passing new programs and expecting someone else to pay for it” (quoted in Greenblatt 2005, 26). Both the president and congressional Republicans can seen as succumbing to the same temptation to use centralized power as did the Nixon and Reagan administrations (Conlan 1998, 313–314).

State Government Policy Activism

Zimmerman (1996, 33) reminds us that “Horizontal intergovernmental relations are of great importance in the U.S. federal system although they typically are overshadowed in the media by vertical intergovernmental relations.” This “neglected dimension of federalism,” as Zimmerman labels it, is a political arena in which significant policy decisions occur “… that can act as a counterbalance to federal activity” (Elazar 1972, 174). State policy activism has always been a feature of American federalism (Teaford 2002, 5), and it appears to be increasing at an accelerating pace, so much so some observers argue state policy activism no longer serves to “counterbalance” federal power but trumps it (Greve 2004). Among various motivations to pursue policy independent of the national government, states may do so to (i) fill a policy void left by federal inaction or refusal to act, (ii) adopt policy positions that correct or modify state perceived defects in federal policy, (iii) communicate or signal issues or problems to the federal government, or (iv) follow (or oppose) a policy adopted by another state(s). A review of some important examples illustrates state government exercise of policy independence during the George W. Bush presidency.

Filling a Policy Void: Environmental Protection and Global Warming

In the 1950s and 1960s state government reluctance to address rising levels of air and water pollution led to a national movement that forced the federal government to establish national standards. But during the Bush years this relationship has become transposed. Of the 16 issues listed on the White House's homepage, environmental protection is conspicuously absent and can only be found by searching under energy issues. This indifference to environmental matters is also supported by Congress and has been expressed by its opposition to the Kyoto treaty on global warming as well as by its preference for solving the nation's energy shortage by enacting more incentives for increased production and eschewing incentives for conservation (Krane 2004, 24).

“In the absence of federal leadership to address climate change,” a report from the Pew Center on Global Climate Change (2006, 1) notes, “many states and regions have begun taking action on their own. States are setting targets for reducing their greenhouse gas emissions, adopting policies to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency, and developing statewide climate action plans.” The number of recently established state environmental policies has been extensive. Six multi-state efforts now foster regional collaboration: the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), the Western Governors’ Association's Clean and Diversified Energy Initiative, the Southwest Climate Change Initiative (Arizona & New Mexico), the West Coast Governors’ Global Warming Initiative, the Powering the Plains Initiative, and the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers (NEG-CP) Climate Action Plan.

Other environmental policies taken by state governments include the promotion of low-carbon electricity generation, mandates for the use of renewable energy, the creation of “public benefit funds” earmarked for supporting energy efficiency projects, allowing utilities to offer “green pricing,” and imposing limits on power plant emissions. States have also altered their transportation policies to benefit the environment by adopting more stringent standards for cars and light trucks. After California in 2004 imposed tougher rules on automobile tailpipe emissions, eleven other states adopted the California standards. More than half of the states support alternative fuel production, and several states require a significant percentage of state-owned vehicles to use alternative fuels or natural gas. Oregon, California, Arizona, and New Mexico have established state targets for lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and on the other side of the country, so have Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey (by 2005), and New York (Pew Center 2006, 2–7; Goodman 2006, 60–62). During the signing ceremony for a global warming reduction agreement between California and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Governor Schwarzenegger (R-CA) declared “We cannot wait for the United States government to get its act together on the environment. We have to create our own leadership” (quoted in Farney 2006, 28).

Why are states able to work together on environmental policies when in the past they had refused to do so? The Pew Center for Global Climate Change (2006, 1) suggests three reasons (i) “state leaders and their constituents are concerned about the projected toll of climate change on their states,” (ii) “many states view policies that address climate change not as a burden on commerce but as an economic opportunity,” and (iii) “states are also seeking to improve air quality, lessen traffic congestion, and develop reliable energy supplies.” In addition to economic and quality of life benefits, leadership on global climate change pays political dividends because environmental protection policies appeal across partisan lines, allowing candidates to build centrist coalitions. The Pew Center (1) notes that “even when governorships have changed hands, state policies on climate change and clean energy have remained in place.” One can also surmise California's dissatisfaction with decisions by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission during the power crisis of 2000 and 2001 has led state officials not just to be wary of federal energy deregulations, but has forced them to resist and pursue their own course (Timney 2004).

Correcting Defects in Federal Policy: Minimum Wage Legislation

The framers of the U. S. Constitution focused intently on the difficulties of achieving a workable middle ground between national and local authority. They located that middle ground in a new form of federalism that James Madison called the "compound republic." The term conveys the complicated and ambiguous intent of the framing generation and helps to make comprehensible what otherwise is bewildering to the modern citizenry: a form of government that divides and disperses official power between majorities of two different kinds—one composed of individual voters, and the other, of the distinct political societies we call states. America's federalism is the subject of this collection of essays by Martha Derthick, a leading scholar of American government. She explores the nature of the compound republic, with attention both to its enduring features and to the changes wrought in the twentieth century by Progressivism, the New Deal, and the civil rights revolution. Interest in federalism is likely to increase in the wake of the 2000 presidential election. There are demands for reform of the electoral college, given heightened awareness that it does not strictly reflect the popular vote. The U. S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, has mounted an explicit and controversial defense of federalism, and new nominees to the Court are likely to be questioned on that subject and appraised in part by their responses. Derthick's essays invite readers to join the Court in weighing the contemporary importance of federalism as an institution of government.

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