Rule of Law

Toward A Unified Theory of Federalism: A Debate


Wednesday, March 7, 2012
American Constitution Society

ACS hosted Toward a Unified Theory of Federalism: A Debate. This event was the first in a series of four debates intended to identify common ground through exploration of the fault lines within the progressive community on important topics of the day. Two scholars explored intra-progressive tensions in understanding federalism, the balance of power between the federal government and state/local governments. Historically and in many contemporary contexts (e.g., civil rights and voting rights), progressives have been vigorous defenders of national power, as opposed to state power. But within other contexts, particularly in the past decade, many progressive scholars have been articulating the need for a stronger vision of states’ rights, particularly because some attempts to address pressing problems (e.g., climate change) have been stymied at the federal level. In certain spaces, like immigration, progressives have both critiqued state initiatives as infringing upon federal prerogatives and applauded states/localities for other initiatives. How can such tensions be resolved, and what would a progressive theory of federalism look like?

Opening Remarks:

  • Praveen Fernandes, Director of Programs for National Security, Technology, Labor and the Environment; American Constitution Society for Law and Policy


  • Elizabeth B. Wydra, Chief Counsel, Constitutional Accountability Center

Featured Scholars:

  • Richard Thompson Ford, George E. Osborne Professor of Law, Stanford Law School
  • Edward L. Rubin, Professor of Law and Political Science, Vanderbilt University Law School