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State Sovereignty in the Federal System: Constitutional Protections under the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments

James R. Alexander
Publius
Vol. 16, No. 2 (Spring, 1986), pp. 1-15
Published by: Oxford University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3330200
Page Count: 15
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State Sovereignty in the Federal System: Constitutional Protections under the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments
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Abstract

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that state sovereignty is protected by principles of common law rather than explicit constitutional guarantees under the Tenth and Eleventh Amendments. The Court has also cautioned that congressional actions, even under delegated powers, may not threaten the integrity of states as sovereign entities in the federal system. The National League of Cities decision in 1976 appeared to reverse this doctrine by implying the existence of Tenth Amendment protections of state actions in traditional functional areas. However, the federal courts discounted the NLC ruling as a compelling precedent in subsequent federalism cases because of its vagueness and its fundamental inconsistency with established doctrine. In 1985, the Supreme Court overturned the ruling in Garcia v. San Antonio, reaffirming the common law nature of state sovereignty and arguing that constitutional protection of state interests lies primarily in the representative structure of the federal system rather than in specific constitutional guarantees.

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