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Third, the constitutions of countries with federal systems formally allocate legislative, judicial, and executive authority to the two levels of government in such a way as to ensure each level some degree of autonomy from the other. Under the U.S. Constitution, the president assumes executive power, Congress exercises legislative powers, and the federal courts (e.g., U.S. district courts, appellate courts, and the Supreme Court) assume judicial powers. In each of the fifty states, a governor assumes executive authority, a state legislature makes laws, and state-level courts (e.g., trial courts, intermediate appellate courts, and supreme courts) possess judicial authority.

While each level of government is somewhat independent of the others, a great deal of interaction occurs among them. In fact, the ability of the federal and state governments to achieve their objectives often depends on the cooperation of the other level of government. For example, the federal government’s efforts to ensure homeland security are bolstered by the involvement of law enforcement agents working at local and state levels. On the other hand, the ability of states to provide their residents with public education and health care is enhanced by the federal government’s financial assistance.

Another common characteristic of federalism around the world is that national courts commonly resolve disputes between levels and departments of government. In the United States, conflicts between states and the federal government are adjudicated by federal courts, with the U.S. Supreme Court being the final arbiter. The resolution of such disputes can preserve the autonomy of one level of government, as illustrated recently when the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot interfere with the federal government’s actions relating to immigration.

Arizona v. United States , 567 U.S. __ (2012).
In other instances, a Supreme Court ruling can erode that autonomy, as demonstrated in the 1940s when, in United States v. Wrightwood Dairy Co. , the Court enabled the federal government to regulate commercial activities that occurred within states, a function previously handled exclusively by the states.
United States v. Wrightwood Dairy Co ., 315 U.S. 110 (1942).

Finally, subnational governments are always represented in the upper house of the national legislature, enabling regional interests to influence national lawmaking.

Ronald L. Watts. 1999. Comparing Federal Systems , 2nd ed. Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queen’s University, 6–7; Daniel J. Elazar. 1992. Federal Systems of the World: A Handbook of Federal, Confederal and Autonomy Arrangements . Harlow, Essex: Longman Current Affairs.
In the American federal system, the U.S. Senate functions as a territorial body by representing the fifty states: Each state elects two senators to ensure equal representation regardless of state population differences. Thus, federal laws are shaped in part by state interests, which senators convey to the federal policymaking process.

Questions & Answers

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Representative Democracy
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Democratic Republic
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Source:  OpenStax, American government. OpenStax CNX. Dec 05, 2016 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11995/1.15
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