Federalism in the United States

Federalism in the United States is an organization of government and legal systems in which a nationwide central government distributes power among the states. The constitution includes rules for how the subjects must interact with each other, and safeguards for how they must interact with the national government. The vertical division of power is one of the fundamental principles of federalism. A properly structured system can effectively complement the constitutional order of a state governed by the rule of law, aiming at the co-subordination of the different powers to deploy initiative and business interaction in solving the tasks of the state and the regions. At the same time, this separation of powers helps to prevent the abuse of power and creates the preconditions for avoiding and suppressing conflicts. It is generally accepted that federalism promotes the successful resolution of many issues that fall under the joint responsibility of the states and the central government. In some cases, however, the effectiveness of such a state structure becomes controversial. The main area in which federalism shows its weaknesses is criminal justice.

An essential feature of the American judicial system is the quasi-sovereignty of the states vis-à-vis the federation, based on the concept of American federalism. This phenomenon allows the states to try any disputes arising in their territory in state courts, except only for specific categories of disputes that fall exclusively within the jurisdiction of the federal courts. According to Article 3 of the U.S. Constitution, in criminal proceedings, the Federal Court system runs parallel to, but does not rise above, states court system (2020). In other words, both judicial systems are sovereign in assessing disputes that arise (Klarman, 2018). However, decisions rendered remain open to appeal. Because a federal court has the power to overturn state regulations and thus prevent state actions that the federal court believes are inconsistent with federal law, from time to time, a somewhat strained relationship arises between the states and the federal courts.

Federalism has markedly affected the perception of the criminal justice process when state criminal convictions are reviewed. The process is legitimate constitutionally, but it is not available to most defendants in practice (Kortuem, 2020).The Supreme Court accepts a fairly limited number of review cases; most documents are not accepted for review, even if state court decisions were erroneous. This fact greatly undermines confidence in the effectiveness and appropriateness of appeals to the Supreme Court and generally reduces the level of civil initiative in resolving criminal cases.

An example of the tension in interpreting the question of applicability or inapplicability of federal law is the case of Johnson and WGW Radio. The former radio station owner, citing fraud committed by the buyer in executing the deal to sell the station, demanded that the agreement be annulled and that he is reinstated as the owner (Swanegan & Podgor, 2019). The station was in Nebraska, state law must apply, and the court, in ruling in favor of the plaintiff, acted within its jurisdiction. The Federal Communications Commission, however, proclaimed that the station’s transfer to another owner consisted of an assignment of the broadcasting license. Since a federal agency issued such a license, the case should, the Commission believed, have been tried in federal court. As a result of this review, the plaintiff experienced financial and time costs. His chances of a speedy resolution of the matter were diminished.

Thus, the existence of the federal and state judicial systems in America has led to an inevitable clash of jurisdictions on several issues. The relationship between the different levels of the judiciary is governed by America’s Constitution, the laws of Congress, and judicial precedents established primarily by the U.S. Supreme Court. But despite this broad regulation, there is still a conflict of jurisdiction between federal and state courts.


Fathers, F. (2020). The Constitution of the United States of America: The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights. East India Publishing Company.

Klarman, M. J. (2018). The framers’ coup: The making of the United States Constitution. Oxford University Press.

Kortuem, A. (2020). The U.S. Supreme Court. Pebble.

Swanegan, Jr, & Podgor, E. (2019). Overview of U.S. law (2nd ed.). Carolina Academic Press.

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LawBirdie. (2023) 'Federalism in the United States'. 1 November.


LawBirdie. 2023. "Federalism in the United States." November 1, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/federalism-in-the-united-states/.

1. LawBirdie. "Federalism in the United States." November 1, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/federalism-in-the-united-states/.


LawBirdie. "Federalism in the United States." November 1, 2023. https://lawbirdie.com/federalism-in-the-united-states/.