Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Political Safeguards of Horizontal Federalism

Heather K. Gerken

Yesterday and the day before, I blogged about the unexpected benefits associated with spillovers – when one state’s policy affects citizens in another state -- and the friction they generate. Today, I want to connect those observations to a larger set of questions about federalism. 

What’s so striking about the near-universal hostility to interstate spillovers is that it stands in stark contrast to one of vertical federalism’s central tenets. While we mourn friction between the states, friction between the states and the federal government has been a celebrated feature of American democracy for centuries. When federal policy spills over into a traditional state domain or state policy spills over into the federal realm, it causes the same kind of friction that arises from interstate spillovers. This friction has led to all sorts of problems, including inefficiency, conflict, and division. Federalism scholars don’t deny these harms. They simply insist that we also pay attention to the productive possibilities associated with state-federal friction. 

In a recent article entitled “The Political Safeguards of Horizontal Federalism,” Ari Holtzblatt and I argue that it’s time to apply this lesson to the horizontal realm. Like friction between the states and federal government, friction among the states comes with both costs and benefits, and it’s here to stay. Our goal, then, shouldn’t be to eliminate interstate friction, but to harness it—taking advantage of its many democratic benefits while avoiding its more serious costs. In the spirit of this observation, my co-author and I build a case for the political safeguards of horizontal federalism. 

For decades we’ve debated whether “political safeguards” preserve healthy relations between the states and the federal government and thus reduce or eliminate the need for judges to referee state-federal tussles. But no one has made such an argument about relations among the states, and the few scholars to have considered the question insist that such safeguards don’t exist. Our Article takes the opposite view. 

Although the literature on horizontal federalism has been burgeoning, it’s not surprising that the literature is missing an account of the political safeguards of horizontal federalism given the field’s core commitments, all of which push against a safeguards account. Developing a political safeguards account for horizontal federalism, then, involves both excavation and construction. First, we must dig into the doctrine and scholarship in order to account for the puzzling differences between the fields. Second, once we’ve examined (and debunked) the arguments that have prevented scholars from even thinking to develop a safeguards account, we must build it. I’ll talk about both projects tomorrow.

Older Posts
Newer Posts