Federalism Law and Legal Definition

The basic principle of American federalism is based in the Tenth Amendment (ratified in 1791) to the Constitution which states:

"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."

Federalism is a system of government in which power is divided between a national (federal) government and various regional governments. Federalism is a basic concept of American government, in which the states are not merely regional representatives of the federal government, but are granted independent powers and responsibilities. With their own legislative branch, executive branch, and judicial branch, states are empowered to pass, enforce, and interpret laws, as long as they do not violate the Constitution. The federal government determines foreign policy, with exclusive power to make treaties, declare war, and control imports and exports, the states have exclusive power to ratify the Constitution. Most governmental responsibilities, however, are shared by state and federal governments, such as taxation, business regulation, environmental protection, and civil rights.