My New Article on “Rethinking the Supreme Court’s Impact on Federalism and Centralization”

Supreme Court


The conventional wisdom that the Supreme Court serves as an instrument of centralization within the American political system has been held for many decades. The conventional wisdom is challenged by a new article that I coauthored along with Michael Dichio (political scientist). Our first draft can be downloaded for free at SSRN. This is the abstract

The U.S. Supreme Court has had a significant impact on the American federal system’s centralizing and decentralizing of power. This article examines that. We show how the Court contributed to centralizing political power through a unique database that includes nearly 700 historic constitutional decisions. This is in contrast to what the Court used to do: it expanded the federal government’s authority relative to state and local governments. However, it also promotes decentralization by protecting the rights of individuals against local and state governments. If we consider federal law decisions that are upheld against challenge as neutral rather than centralizing, the Court’s impact tends to be more decentralizing. In past analyses of the Court’s impact on federalism or centralization, these crucial points were neglected. These points are valid in many instances. Multiple models are also presented to show how federalism is affected by the Court.

The Court is not a constant force of centralization, as the old picture has been. Our analysis casts doubt on that view. This analysis also challenges the traditional wisdom regarding the Court’s impact on centralization in specific times of American history.

My review inspired this article. Publius: The Journal of FederalismThe following is an excerpt from Michael Dichio’s outstanding 2018 book. The US Supreme Court, and the Centralization of Federal Authority. Two methodological modifications were recommended by me during the review. Michael reached out and asked me to write an article on them. It includes both a defense and a variety of innovations.

We don’t CompleteWe are challenging the conventional wisdom regarding the Court and centralization. We do however explain the reasons for its substantial modification. This would result in a significant reversal of a few key issues.

We are still working on this draft and welcome any comments or criticisms.