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Martha A. Field, The Meaning of Federalism, 23 Ohio N.U. L. Rev. 1365 (1997).

Abstract: I wanted to talk about "The Meaning of Federalism" because often, in discussions of federalism, people seem to be talking about very different things, and with very different assumptions. Federalism-even "Our Federalism" as the Supreme Court sometimes calls the type of federalism that has developed in this country-is used with different and sometimes even opposite meanings. The Federalists of our history originally were supporters of strong central government and surely the phrase can still carry that meaning. But many today, including sometimes the Supreme Court (Younger v. Harris) use the federalism slogan to support not greater national power but to support greater states' rights. Today, I will suggest that neither of these definitions of federalism is required by our constitutional system. As a matter of dictionary definition, federalism is not inherently either pro-centrist or pro-local; a society can be federalist and have either characteristic. The Supreme Court essentially held in Garcia v. San Antonio Metropolitan Transit Authority that either slant, within very broad limits, is consistent with our Constitution, and that Congress, not the Supreme Court, is the primary arbiter of the appropriate balance to maintain between state and federal powers. The point for now, however, is not which of these various views of federalism is the correct one as much as to show that there is this confusion as to whether "federalism" carries an inherent pro-centrist bias, an inherent pro-state bias, or neither. In this way and others, the term is used with very different meanings and different agendas.