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How Federalism Can Trump Populism

BERKELEY – America remains deeply divided on many economic and political issues. Just as US President Donald Trump was touting the accomplishments of his first 100 days in office, a federal court, responding to a legal complaint brought by several jurisdictions, temporarily blocked his executive order to strip federal funding from “sanctuary” states and cities.

According to the ruling, Trump’s order violates the Constitution’s separation of powers clause, due-process guarantees, and the Tenth Amendment, which states that, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” In other words, states and cities may cooperate with the federal government by carrying out federal policies; but the Tenth Amendment provides the constitutional basis for them to challenge or resist federal policies that conflict with their own goals (in this case, shielding undocumented immigrants from arrest and possible deportation).

Citizens’ needs vary widely across the country, and federalism helps to ensure that they are addressed. State and municipal governments can implement policies more efficiently when they are free to source local ideas and enter into local partnerships with non-governmental actors.

Local-level pilot programs and policy experiments also accelerate innovation, with authorities able to close ineffective programs quickly and expand those that work. And, because a federalist approach encourages transparency and accountability in how policies are implemented, it also bolsters the public’s trust in government institutions and elected officials. This is why most Americans have maintained their confidence in state and local governments, even as their trust in the federal government has reached all-time lows.