American Federalism and Question of Civil Liberties

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An interesting facet to our American government is the fact that not all power is carried out by just the federal government, the state, or the citizens. The system of checks and balances, which makes sure that no branch of government has too much power, ensures this. Therefore, through judicial review, the courts are able to stop the acts of an executive or legislative process and can rule on the constitutionality of a law (Losco & Baker, 32). Throughout history government has been centralizing and decentralizing policies and the U.S. Supreme Court has the power to implement these policies. Centralization is when policies are broad and apply to the whole nation through the enforcement of the Federal Government. Decentralization is when decisions are brought down to the state level and policies are implemented. I think it is good that the state can have this power because the Federal Government cannot see and enforce everything that’s going on. In the past and currently, the U.S. Supreme Court has made decisions on civil liberties issues that have been either centralized or decentralized.

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Civil liberties are the “personal freedoms of individuals that are protected from government intrusion” (Losco & Baker, 61). The Bill of Rights, which protects our civil liberties, was an example of a decision that resulted in the nationalization of policies across the United States. These policies, such as the free exercise of religion and the right to bear arms, are implemented everywhere in the United States and thus is an example of centralization.

One Supreme Court ruling that decentralized policy making on a civil liberties topic is the legalization of marijuana in California. Right now it is legal to use THC for medicinal purposes, but as for any other use it is still illegal. However, the state government is working on legalizing it in all forms of the substance. According to assembly man Tom Ammiano, California may “remove all penalties on cultivation, transportation, sale, purchase, possession, or use of marijuana, natural THC, or paraphernalia for persons over the age of 21” (The National Ledger, Feb 27). Also, it would bring in money for the state because of taxes that would be put on THC. This was an example of decentralization because the state overrode the federal government and went ahead to make this decision. Again, I think that this is the state’s right and unless there is a valid reason it should not be overrode by the federal government.

The Bill of Rights is a very important set of policies that are rightfully centralized because of their importance to our safety and civil liberties. Freedoms such as protection against unreasonable searches and seizures need to be laws nationwide because they affect everyone, not just in a specific case. As for this policy on marijuana in California, not every state is going to want to legalize it, so this shouldn’t be centralized to the whole nation.

In conclusion, American federalism includes both centralization and decentralization of policies, and makes sure to protect our civil liberties. It is our right that the federal government doesn’t control everything and gives power to the state and the citizen. Our government uses the systems of checks and balances so that power is not abused. The anti-federalists and federalists disagreed about the Bill of Rights and it being added to the constitution and how much power it should have. In the end, the Bill of Rights became selectively incorporated, which means that most of them apply to the states, but not all (Losco and Baker, 63). This makes sense because not all of these rights should be enforced for the whole nation, such as the right to keep and bear arms. We have a right to our civil liberties, and sometimes only the state can know what the best policy is in specific situations.

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