ALEC’s Guiding Principle of Federalism: A Uniquely American Governing Construct

For 50 years, ALEC has been a leader in advancing federalism principles and has created a forum for state lawmakers to realize state sovereignty as America’s Founding Fathers envisioned.

Our fifth episode in the ALEC 50th anniversary video series, “Federalism,” features ALEC National Chair for 2023, Florida Representative Daniel Perez; ALEC National Chair for 2022, former Arizona Senate President Karen Fann; ALEC National Chair for 2014 and founder of the ALEC Center to Restore the Balance of Government, former Iowa Speaker of the House Linda Upmeyer; ALEC Chair of the Center to Restore the Balance of Government, Utah Representative Ken Ivory; and ALEC Board of Scholars member Rob Natelson.

Released on the Fourth of July, this day is an ideal time to spotlight federalism – an ALEC guiding principle, and of the three (federalism, free markets, and limited government) the most uniquely American. Springing from our Founding Fathers’ commitment to liberty and their conviction that without strong safeguards, power would inevitably migrate to the national government eroding individual and states’ rights, federalism was woven into the US Constitution to prevent federal overreach. The founding Chair of ALEC’s Center to Restore the Balance of Government Linda Upmeyer observes in ALEC’s 50th anniversary video that many mistakenly believe that federalism is a consolidation of power with the federal government – its opposite. ALEC has addressed this fundamental misunderstanding in the model American Civics and History Act.

I’ve talked to people about federalism where they say, “Oh, we don’t want federalism,” because they think that is bigger federal government, when actually the opposite is true. Federalism is putting the responsibilities – the accountability to the people – right in the hands of your state representation.

The states are federalism’s defenders but cannot defend rights of which they are unaware. For the last five decades, ALEC has been at the forefront of making sure that our members have a comprehensive understanding of federalism and we continue to adopt model policies meant to sharpen their knowledge such as Federalism Education Requirements for Public Attorneys and the ALEC Model Resolution on Continuing Education on Federalism.

Sadly, many states have accepted laws, regulations, and presidential executive orders (EOs) without challenging their constitutionality often in exchange for federal largesse which increased their dependence on the federal government. ALEC adopted Resolution Reaffirming Tenth Amendment Rights to remind states that “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.” ALEC’s Commission on Federalism Act calls for the establishment of a state commission to evaluate and review any federal law that could potentially violate the state’s sovereignty. ALEC also adopted Executive Review Process Amendments as an aid for states to determine the constitutionality of presidential executive orders and to establish a mechanism to push back on unconstitutional EOs.

America’s Founders considered the states co-equal partners with the federal government and included constitutional provisions to ensure that no state would be rendered powerless by population or geographical size. The Electoral College is vital to ensuring that smaller states are not eclipsed in presidential elections by more populous ones, and ALEC has reaffirmed our support for this institution in our Statement of Principles for Presidential Elections.

The Constitutional Framers foresaw a time when Congress might be the source of national dysfunction and the states would be compelled to lead providing states with a means to propose constitutional amendments in Article V. In addition to authoring ALEC’s Article V Handbook, , Professor Rob Natelson, ALEC Board of Scholars member, is featured in a video series on Article V and ALEC has adopted model policies on a number of initiatives that could be advanced by Article V from a fiscal responsibility amendment to one that keeps the number of Supreme Court Justices at nine. ALEC’s No Runaway Article V Conventions Act aims to prevent a “runaway convention.”

ALEC is a nationally and internationally recognized voice on federalism. ALEC members have been invited to present at the Hanns Seidel Foundation’s Federalism Days conference, and ALEC staff has addressed Congress on the federalism implications of transfer of select portions of the federal estate to state control as well as on federal overreach with respect to USDA regulations. ALEC has also presented at Utah Valley University’s annual Federalism Conference – read more about one of the talks in Federalism Is Having a Moment – Let’s Seize the Opportunity!. As detailed in Federalism and the Philippines, ALEC staff was invited to address the US Embassy in Manila on federalism as the Philippines explored ways to incorporate a greater degree of state sovereignty into their governing construct and has spoken to delegations from around the world about state sovereignty often providing opportunities for ALEC members to share their experiences.

Federalism created a fertile environment for policy innovation to flourish, giving states the freedom to craft solutions for both state and national challenges and when effective, these best practices can be shared to solve common problems. The freedom to innovate also serves as a crucial political safety valve for Americans who feel impotent in the face of federal dysfunction and mismanagement.

Now, with a new federalism firmly established, and government refocused on the states, you must carry on our work. The achievements of ALEC and the talents of your members convinces me that you are up to the challenge that our new federalism can lead to a new renaissance for America.

– President Ronald Reagan

Federalism helped shape the nation we have become and could serve as a mechanism to repair some of the damage to the nation’s social fabric. ALEC has promoted the idea of a National Federalism Task Force comprised of a healthy cross-section of federalism leaders and model policy. For 50 years, ALEC has been a leader in advancing federalism principles and has created a forum for state lawmakers to realize state sovereignty as America’s Founding Fathers envisioned.