Erin Ryan

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Lewis & Clark Law School Legal Research Paper Series


No. 2012-19


This essay is drawn from a lecture for the “Ways of Federalism” conference (University of the Basque Country, October 19, 2011) and a new book, "Federalism and the Tug of War Within" (Oxford, 2012) (, which explores how constitutional interpreters struggle to reconcile the core tensions within American federalism. The essay reviews the current challenges of the American federal system through the theoretical lens developed in the book, focusing on the role of state-federal bargaining within the U.S. federal system. It appears as a chapter in a book of selected conference proceedings, The Ways of Federalism in Western Countries and the Horizons of Territorial Autonomy in Spain (Springer, 2013). "Federalism and the Tug of War Within" traces American federalism’s internal struggle through history and into the present, critiquing the Rehnquist Court and Tea Party’s embrace of greater jurisdictional separation, the limits of New Federalism and Cooperative Federalism approaches, and the growing disjuncture between federalism theory and practice in the United States. In response to the ongoing challenges for American federalism posed by constitutional design, the book outlines a theory of Balanced Federalism, which mediates the core tensions of American federalism on three separate planes: (1) fostering balance among the competing federalism values, (2) leveraging the functional capacities of all three branches of government in interpreting federalism, and (3) maximizing the wisdom of both state and federal actors in so doing. The essay introduces the book’s overarching themes and explores one part of it in detail -- the role of well-crafted intergovernmental bargaining in helping to navigate these core tensions.


A version of this article also appeared as a book chapter in The Ways of Federalism in Western Countries and the Horizons of Territorial Autonomy in Spain, Alberto López Basagurn & Leire Escajedo San-Epifaniom, eds., 2013.

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