Federalism Throughout American History the Power of Essay

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Throughout American history the power of the federal government in comparison with the states has been continually debated. This is because there is a principal known as the separation of powers. In the Constitution, this is reserving certain areas of authority for the federal and state governments. The problem is that many of these powers can often come into conflict with one another on a regular basis. As the Constitution, will provide some basic guidelines, but it will not address specific areas. To account for this, the courts are relying on individual interpretations and case precedent. This creates conflicting areas of authority, based upon the general powers that are given to the states and federal government. (Bonnie)

In the case of the federal government, this kind of conflict occurred in 1984 with the passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. This law encouraged the states to raise the minimum drinking age from 18 to 21 years old. Those that did not comply with these provisions would be subject to a 10% decrease in federal highway funding under the Federal Aid Highway Act. This has created controversy surrounding the powers of federalism vs. states' rights. To fully understand what is happening requires looking at this case and focusing on the issues of morality. Together, these different elements will provide the greatest insights as to how federalism is dealing with these challenges. ("Title 23")

In the 1970s, different states across the country began lowering the minimum drinking age from 21 to 18. This is using the powers that were given to them with the repeal of Prohibition. At the time, it was assumed that the states have the right to set limits on the sale and distribution of alcohol within their borders. As a result, all of them established the minimum drinking age at 21 (which was the legal standard for being an adult). Once18-year-olds were given the right to vote, is when a number of states lowered the minimum drinking age to this level. The problem was that studies began to surface in the early 1980s that were showing how binge drinking was becoming a major health issue for those under 21. This forced the federal government into action, as a part of an effort to deal with the current health crisis. (Bonnie)

From a federalist perspective, this is considered to be in line with the powers given to Congress in regulating interstate commerce (under the Constitution). The fact that alcohol is sold in different states, means that many producers are crossing states lines with this merchandise. This gives the federal government the power to be able to regulate standards surrounding: the sale, production and distribution of these products. (Bonnie)

However, the federal government is not imposing its will upon the states by: making them follow this policy or face the consequences for their actions. Instead, they are linking all annual highway funding to the state's compliance with these provisions. As those states that are following this aspect of the law will receive the full amounts of funding they are entitled to. Any state that does not want to follow these provisions will see lower levels of transportation funding. This is encouraging everyone to follow federal guidelines by giving them a financial incentive for enacting these changes. (Bonnie)

This has many proponents of states' rights claiming how this is doing nothing to: deal with the issues of preventing underage drinking or drunk driving. As a host of studies have been introduced since the 1980s, to show how individuals under the age of 21 still have access to alcohol. Moreover, similar numbers are illustrating that drunk driving fatalities have not continually dropped. Instead, there was an initial decline, followed by…

Sources Used in Document:

Works Cited

"Title 23." U.S. Senate, 2000. Web. 9 Mar. 2012

Bonnie, Richard. Reducing Underage Drinking. Washington DC: National Academy Press, 2004. Print.

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