Monitoring American Federalism: The Overlooked Tool of Sounding the Alarm Interposition


One key feature of the U.S. Constitution – the concept of federalism – was unclear when it was introduced, and that lack of clarity threatened the Constitution’s ratification by those who feared the new government would undermine state sovereignty. Proponents of the new governmental framework were questioned about the underlying theory of the Constitution as well as how it would operate in practice, and their explanations produced intense and extended debate over how to monitor federalism.

In their famous defense of the Constitution in The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison described a monitoring role for state legislatures that anticipated the practice of interposition. Although never using the term “interposition” in their essays, Hamilton and Madison responded to opponents of the Constitution by arguing that state legislatures were uniquely situated to be the voice of the people who would sound the alarm if the general government exceeded its rightful authority. What originated as a debate-like response to opponents of ratification eventually took on a life of its own, producing a settled tradition of monitoring federalism by the states that has largely been overlooked and which laid the groundwork for future conversations about constitutional meaning and federalism’s balancing of powers. I explore these themes in Monitoring American Federalism: The History of State Legislative Resistance.


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Posted by Christian G. Fritz in Case Studies, 0 comments