Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



Contemporary legal discourse concerning federalism has shifted from the formal to the normative, that is, from a focus on the fifty states as unique entities in the American constitutional firmament to a concern with the values of federalism. This normative turn has had some salutary effects. It has sharpened the debate over federalism, reminded us of the impact of the federal design on the substance of American governance, and underscored the interrelationship of government structure and individual rights. But the normative approach has also, paradoxically, moved the focus of federalism away from the states. Many of the arguments offered on behalf of federalism are not distinctively associated with the states, but, rather, could be advanced by the empowerment of other subnational units. Indeed, many of federalism's values are the same as those urged by the advocates of local governments when they make their case for the autonomy of local governments from the states. As a result, much of the "intellectual case for federalism"' often converges with the case for decentralization, or localism.