What does the Constitution specifically say about the distribution of power between the state and national governments?

Expert Answers
pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

First of all, the Constitution specifies that the national government’s laws will be superior to those of the states.  That is, when state and national laws conflict, the national laws must win out and the state laws must be rejected.  This is found in Article VI.  That article says, in part, that

This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof … shall be the supreme Law of the Land.

This establishes the basic idea of our federal system, which is that the national government is superior to the state governments in those areas where it has the power to act.

But in which areas does the national government have power to act?  The Constitution specifically lays out powers that the federal government has and powers that it does not have.  The main place where the Constitution does this is in Article I, Sections 8, 9, and 10.   Section 8 lays out the enumerated powers that the national government holds.  Section 9 tells what Congress cannot do.  Section 10 tells what the state governments cannot do.  Thus, these three sections give us most of our information about how our federal system is to work.

Finally, the 10th Amendment tells us something about federalism as well.  It says that the states have any powers that are not specifically given to the national government and/or specifically denied to the states.  In theory, this means should give the states a great deal of power.  However, in practice, the 10th Amendment has had little impact on our federal system.

While federalism is a major part of our system, the word “federalism” is never mentioned in the Constitution.  Instead, the document lays out the basic ideas of our federal system in the passages listed above.