federal system

System of government where the national government and state governments share power, derive all authority from the people, and the powers of the government are specified in a Constitution.


Type of government where the national government derives its powers from the states; a league of independent states.

unitary system

System of government where the local and regional governments derive all authority from a strong national government

enumerated powers

Specific powers granted to Congress under Article I, section 8, of the Constitution; these powers include taxation, coinage of money, regulation of commerce, and the authority to provide for a national defense.

necessary and proper clause

The final paragraph of Article I, section 8, of the Constitution, which gives Congress the authority to pass all laws "necessary and proper" to carry out the enumerated powers specified in the Constitution; also called the elastic clause.

implied powers

Powers derived from enumerated powers and the necessary and proper clause. These powers are not stated specifically but are considered to be reasonably implied through the exercise of delegated powers.

supremacy clause

Portion of Article VI of the Constitution mandating that national law is supreme to (that is, supersedes) all other laws passed by the states or by any other subdivision of government.

Tenth Amendment

The final part of the Bill of Rights that defines the basic principle of American federalism in stating: "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

reserve (or police) powers

Powers reserved to the states by the Tenth Amendment that lie at the foundation of a states' right to legislate for the public health and welfare of its citizens.

concurrent powers

Authority possessed by both the state and national governments that may be exercised concurrently as long as that power is not exclusively within the scope of national power or in conflict with national law.

bill of attainder

A law declaring an act illegal without a judicial trial.

ex post facto law

Law that makes an act punishable as a crime even if the action was legal at the time it was committed.

full faith and credit clause

Section of Article IV of the Constitution that ensures judicial decrees and contracts made in one state will be binding and enforceable in any other state.

privileges and immunities clause

Part of Article IV of the Constitution guaranteeing that the citizens of each state are afforded the same rights as citizens of all other states.

extradition clause

Part of Article IV of the Constitution that requires states to extradite, or return, criminals to states where they have been convicted or are to stand trial.

interstate compacts

Contracts between states that carry the force of law; generally now used as a tool to address multistate policy concerns.

McCulloch v. Maryland (1819)

The Supreme Court upheld the power of the national government and denied the right of a state to tax the federal bank using the Constitution's supremacy clause. The Court's broad interpretation of the necessary and proper clause paved the way for later ru

Gibbons v. Ogden (1824)

The Supreme Court upheld broad congressional power to regulate interstate commerce. The Court's broad interpretation of the Constitution's commerce clause paved the way for later rulings upholding expansive federal powers.

dual federalism

The belief that having separate and equally powerful levels of government is the best arrangement.

Sixteenth Amendment

Authorized Congress to enact a national income tax.

Seventeenth Amendment

Made senators directly elected by the people; removed their selection from state legislatures.

cooperative federalism

The intertwined relationship between the national, state and local governments that began with the New Deal.

categorical grant

Grants that allocated federal funds to states for a specific purpose

New Federalism

Federal-stated relationship proposed by Reagan administration during the 1980s; hallmark is returning administrative powers to the state governments

block grant

Broad grant with few strings attached; given to states by the federal government for general categories of activity, such as secondary education or health services.

unfunded mandates

National laws that direct state or local governments to comply with federal rules or regulations (such as clean air or water standards) but contain little or no federal funding to defray the cost of meeting those requirements.


A concept derived from the Constitution's supremacy clause that allows the national government to override or preempt state or local actions in certain ares.

sovereign immunity

The right of a state to be free from a lawsuit unless it gives permission to the suit. Under the Eleventh amendment, all states are considered sovereign.