SMNR: American Constitutional Federalism

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Meeting Times

Day Time Location
THU 3:30 - 5:20 pm TNH 3.128

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In this seminar we will examine federalism from a theoretical perspective. It is clear that the Constitution envisions some division of authority over citizens between the national and state governments, but what is the proper division? What does it mean to say that the state governments surrendered a portion of their sovereignty to empower the national government? How can we know what was retained? We will look at how thinking about federalism has changed over time, focusing on historical moments of heightened debate -- the Framing era, Reconstruction, the New Deal, among others. We will examine what if anything has remained constant in federalism theory through these periods of upheaval, what has changed, and how historical shifts in thinking about federalism may inform our modern understanding. We will pay particular attention to questions about how, and by whom, constitutional federalism ought to be implemented. Are the courts primarily responsible for enforcing federalism norms, or is that task dedicated to Congress? Do the states have a role to play? We will discuss whether federalism consists of legal rules, principles, some combination of the two, or something else entirely, and how the nature of federalism norms informs the choice among possible implementing mechanisms. Readings will consist largely of secondary sources like law review articles, supplemented with selected historical, judicial and legislative materials.


Headshot of Pursley, Garrick B Pursley, Garrick B
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