The Rehnquist Court and the “New Federalism”

Authored by: Jack Wade Nowlin

The Ashgate Research Companion to Federalism

Print publication date:  August  2009
Online publication date:  April  2016

Print ISBN: 9780754671312
eBook ISBN: 9781315612966
Adobe ISBN: 9781317043454


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The U.S. Constitution establishes a federal form of government with political authority in the United States divided between the national government and the 50 state governments. The questions surrounding the precise contours of the “federal balance” struck between national power and state power by the Constitution have been a subject of continuing and evolving controversy since the ratification of the Constitution. The authority of the Supreme Court to resolve these questions has also been a subject of ongoing controversy – with the Supreme Court sometimes aggressively asserting the power to enforce federal limits on the national government and sometimes passively disclaiming such power. The “New Federalism” of the Rehnquist Court (1986–2005) refers to a set of judicially enforceable constitutional doctrines recognized by the Supreme Court over the last two decades which reinvigorated federal limits on the national government of the United States. As such, the Rehnquist Court’s “New Federalism” has raised – once again – fundamental questions concerning the federal balance and its judicial resolution.

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