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Dual Federalism & Cooperative Federalism

By Levi Clancy for Student Reader on

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Federalism is when multiple governments exercise power and authority over the same people and the same territory.

For example, the governments of the United States and Pennsylvania share certain powers (for example, the power to tax) but other powers belong exclusively to one or the other. This form of government was the founders' solution to fashioning a single nation out of thirteen independent states. Federalism helped solve how to cope with diversity.

Dual federalism:
Dual federalism chart
The federal government is well-restrained and in some domains exists in tension with state government.

Cooperative federalism:
Cooperative federalism chart
The federal government looms over state government, but mutual cooperation goes both ways.

Dual Federalism

Dual federalism is a theory about the proper relationship between government and the states, portraying the states as powerful components of the federal government -- nearly equal to the national government.

Dual federalism is composed of four essential parts:

  1. The national government rules by enumerated powers only. The national government may rule only by using powers specifically listed in the Constitution.

  2. The national government has a limited set of constitutional purposes. The national government has only limited purposes.

  3. Each government unit -- nation and state -- is sovereign within its sphere. National and state governments are sovereign in their own spheres.

  4. The relationship between nation and states is best characterized by tension rather than cooperation. The relationships between the state and national governments are marked by tension.

Of primary importance in dual federalism is states' rights, which reserve to the states all rights not specifically conferred on the national government by the Constitution. According to the theory of dual federalism, a rigid wall separates the nation and the states.

Supporters of limiting Congress to its enumerated powers cite the tenth amendment. Supporters of giving Congress increased power cite its implied powers. Implied powers are the powers that Congress needs to execute its enumerated powers.

Cooperative Federalism

Cooperative federalism was coined in the 1930s and acknowledges a need for cooperation between state and federal governments.

Cooperative federalism rejects that state and national government must exist in separate spheres and is defined by three elements:

  1. National and state agencies typically undertake government functions jointly rather than exclusively.

  2. The nation and states routinely share power.

  3. Power is not concentrated at any government level or in any agency. The fragmentation of responsibilities gives people and groups access to many venues of influence.

Federalism and the Constitution

A critical difference between cooperative and dual federalism is how they interpret the elastic clause and Tenth Amendment.

These two sections of the Constitution define the relationship between state and national governments. Article 1, Section 8, lists the enumerated powers of congress and ends with the elastic clause, which gives Congress the power "to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers" meaning the enumerated powers.

The Tenth Amendment reserves for states or the people powers not assigned to the national government or denied to the states by the Constitution. Dual federalism insists that powers not assigned to the national government are only for states and the people, and claims that the elastic clause is inflexible. Cooperative federalism restricts the Tenth Amendment and posits supplements to the elastic clause.