“All politics is local.” This expression rings truer today than ever.
The framers of the U.S. Constitution envisioned a system of federalism for the United States—one in which the national government was given a limited set of well-defined powers, with all other powers not delegated by the Constitution being reserved to the states. Throughout American history, however, more and more powers have been delegated to the federal government.
Right now we are witnessing a turning point in a century-long power struggle between the federal government and the states. Democratic presidents such as Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon B. Johnson gradually increased the size of the federal government and expanded the scope of its powers. After a century of power being concentrated in Washington, the United States Supreme Court is undoing that legacy, returning decision-making power to lower levels of government.
Two recent SCOTUS opinions have radically changed the balance of power in this country. The court ruled in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that the Constitution does not confer the right to abortion. In New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, the court struck down New York State’s licensing requirement for concealed carry of a handgun, making it more difficult for New York and other states regulate concealed carry.
The only theme related to these two decisions is that the federal government is ceding much of its power to the states, which puts increased pressure on state and local governments to make decisions on behalf of the people.
Gone are the days of FDR, who saw the federal government as the engine of the national economy with his New Deal. Gone are the days of LBJ, whose Great Society program aimed to eliminate poverty and racial disparity using the federal government as a driving force. In this post-Roe America, the power of the federal government is shrinking, being taken out of its hands and placed in the hands of the states.
The decentralization of federal power has some possible advantages. For starters, it could reduce voter polarization and division in the United States. With fewer decision-making powers, the stakes will be lower for legislative and presidential elections. While national security and interstate commerce will still be the domain of the federal government, a host of national issues may soon return to the states, which means state and local elections may soon carry much more weight.
As power shifts from the federal government to our backyards, local residents must maintain an active interest in their state and local legislatures, as these bodies will decide the issues that matter most. Citizens can – and should – stay informed by reading their local newspapers, where information on these issues is most accessible. And don’t forget to write letters to the editor, as this remains a proven method of reaching and persuading fellow citizens.