Federalism and US Supreme Court

Federalism and Anti-Federalism

The creation of the United States of America and the country’s Constitution was associated with a heated debate. Americans had two opposing views on the political system that has existed for more than 200 years. Federalist and anti-federalists managed to compromise and the USA (as it is) came into existence. Federalism can be defined as “the multifaceted political power relationships between governments within the same geographical setting” (Gerston, 2015, p. 5).

The concept of federalism can be best understood if to take into account the meaning of the word which denotes the collaboration of equals (Gerston, 2015). Thus, federalism implies the existence of two (or several) bodies that have overlapping responsibilities, but also deal with quite different levels (Zimmerman, 2009). The federal government focuses on the proper functioning of the entire nation and the collaboration between states while state governments concentrate on local issues and collaboration with other states.

However, the concept was not properly understood and well-accepted by people in the 18th century. Federalists and anti-federalists had different views on the matter. One of the major arguments of antifederalists was that the political system could eventually turn into (or even already was) a form of despotism that had once made Americans stand up to the rule of Britain (Cornell, 2012). Americans feared that a centralized government would focus on imposing taxes and limiting people’s liberties. They also claimed that no centralized power could satisfy the needs of people living in different states as they were too far from the people.

These were keen supporters of the document that later become the Bill of Rights. At the same time, federalists had more grounded arguments that allowed the political system to come into existence. For example, they emphasized the need to ensure the nation’s security from any external threat, which required a strong centralized government that could maintain an army and other resources (Zimmerman, 2009). This argument was specifically potent as Americans remembered their fight against such countries as Britain and France. Another sound argument was associated with the likelihood of discord between states. Federalists claimed that any discord would inevitably weaken the nation as important decisions could take months to be made due to debates (Zimmerman, 2009).

The two parties managed to compromise, and the Bill of Rights became the premise for the creation of the new country. Interestingly, federalists were strongly against a document concerning liberties, but a federalist was the creator of the Bill of Rights. The parties soon understood that the new political system was the best option for the United States.

U.S. Supreme Court

US Supreme Court is the highest court in the country that is characterized by the ultimate appellate jurisdiction (Banks & Blakeman, 2012). In simple terms, it is the final place where a decision can be made with no opportunity to appeal to another court within the country. The US Supreme Court can handle various cases concerning individuals as well as states (Greenhouse, 2012). According to the US Constitution, the justices are nominated by the US president and approved by Congress. This ensures the balance of power as each branch has the power to affect each other’s performance. It is necessary to note that the major principles and philosophical underpinning of the Supreme Court’s functioning are equality and the supremacy of law (Hall & Feldmeier, 2012).

For example, the case of Mapp v. Ohio (1961) shows that the Supreme Court follows the philosophical paradigm mentioned as it was decided that no evidence obtained with the violation of the law can be used in any court in the USA (Cammack, 2010). The case of Weeks v. the United States (1914) also illustrates the Supreme Court’s focus on the correctness of procedures as they ensure that individuals’ rights will be secured through the use of clear procedures (Greenhouse, 2012). Thus, the US Supreme Court sees people as equally bound to follow the regulations set, and the need to follow all the procedures is regarded as the necessary ground for the rule of law. In other words, the possibility of a violation in a single case can lead to the destruction of the entire system as the representative of the judicial branch may become corrupted or less impartial.

Recently, the Supreme Court is criticized heavily as it is thought to become more and more politicized (Unah, 2016). It is possible to come up with a number of recommendations to address this issue. First, the selection process can be slightly changed. The President can provide several candidates, and Congress chooses one of them. This may ensure that the candidates will be less biased by the political agenda of the president as there are chances that a less loyal candidate will be chosen by Congress.

The second recommendation is associated with the concept of federalism. It is claimed that the Supreme Court often violates the rights and does not take into account the interests of states (Banks & Blakeman, 2012). To address this issue, it is possible to introduce a specific selection criterion. The Supreme Court should include an equal number of justices (three justices) who have experience in working in federal or state courts or both. Thus, each decision will be debated, and the necessary attention to the peculiarities of the state will be paid.

The third recommendation is related to tenure. Many justices can remain in their posts for decades, which can be beneficial since they have the necessary experience and can be less biased (politically or in any other way) than younger judges. However, they also tend to be too conservative and follow principles that can become outdated (Greenhouse, 2012). Therefore, it is possible to establish a shorter tenure for justices. For instance, this can be a period of ten years. This would ensure the presence of justices who share social and cultural principles of contemporaries rather than older generations. The world is changing, and the Supreme Court should be as flexible as American society. The introduction of a shorter period of service can provide the necessary flexibility to the system.

The fourth recommendation is concerned with transparency. The public is largely unaware of the vast majority of procedures. Therefore, it can be quite difficult for the public to evaluate the performance of the US Supreme Court. In many cases, the decisions are made known, but people do not understand the reasoning behind those decisions, which makes people criticize the decisions. At that, posting debates and televising (partially) some proceedings would make people aware of the way decisions are made. This would make people more confident in the judicial system’s proper functioning. This can also increase people’s trust towards the US courts and the US Supreme Court in particular.


Banks, C., & Blakeman, J. (2012). The U.S. Supreme Court and new federalism. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Cammack, M. (2010). The rise and fall of the constitutional exclusionary rule in the United States. American Journal of Comparative Law, 58(1), 631-658.

Cornell, S. (2012). The other founders: Anti-federalism and the dissenting tradition in America, 1788-1828. Chapel Hill, NC: UNC Press Books.

Gerston, L.N. (2015). American federalism: A concise introduction. New York, NY: Routledge.

Greenhouse, L. (2012). The U.S. Supreme Court: A very short introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Hall, D.E., & Feldmeier, J. (2012). Constitutional values: Governmental powers and individual freedoms. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Unah, I. (2016). The Supreme Court in American politics. New York, NY: Springer.

Zimmerman, J.F. (2009). Contemporary American Federalism: The growth of national power. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

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