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Center for the Study of Federalism

Federalism shapes the ways in which nearly half the world’s people govern themselves—from citizen activism and representation to public policy formation, innovation, and diffusion. Modern federalism, invented by the American founders, provides a political means to create unity and protect diversity, national identity and personal liberty.

Because federalism profoundly shapes American politics and policy making, understanding federalism equips students, teachers, and citizens with tools to more accurately perceive and interpret political life and policy outcomes. Here you will find curated resources on all facets of American federalism and the perennial problems of how a people best provide, divide, separate, share, and limit political power.

Federalism Digests

Policy Diffusion among the U.S. States (May 2024)

The states are policy innovators, developing new solutions to many of the most pressing issues facing the country.

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Federalism Digests

Why States Matter

"The states, be they large or small, coastal or landlocked, wealthy or poor, play essential roles in the functioning of American federalism. In some…

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State Standing in Federal Courts

Joshua Perry contends that the trend of state-initiated public law litigation in federal courts designed to direct the course of national policy via the…

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History and Federal and Local Immigration Policies

Jacob Hamburger reviews the history of immigration in the United States and suggests that this "largely forgotten" history could offer insights for "cooperative interventions to align federal…

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Interview with Biden Administration’s Intergovernmental Affairs Director

Governing magazine has posted an interview with Tom Perez about the administration's efforts to work with states and localities. Read more here.

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The “Demise of Federalism” in Iraq?

Marina Ottaway of the Wilson Center writes that federalism in Iraq -- a key aspect of U.S. involvement there -- has been eroding for…

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The States and Election Subversion

Richard L. Hasen considers the role that states play in ensuring the security of elections in the United States. Read more here.

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Lincoln Memorial at night

Federalism in America: An Encyclopedia

This encyclopedia provides a comprehensive reference explaining the major concepts, institutions, court cases, epochs, personalities, and policies that have shaped, or been shaped by, American federalism. It describes federalism’s creation and evolution, and its influence on local, state, and national governmental institutions, procedures, and policies. The models used to explain the various historical eras in the development of federalism are also included. Originally published by Greenwood Press in 2005, this encyclopedia contained over 400 entries relating to American federalism. In its current online form, entries are being added and old ones updated.

From Our Encyclopedia

President of the United States

The institution of U.S. President is shaped by federalism and individual presidents shape federalism.

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Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting (2011)

The federal Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) makes it unlawful “to hire, or to recruit or refer for a fee, for…

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Virginia v. Tennessee (1893)

See Interstate Compacts.

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United States v. Windsor (2013)

In United States v. Windsor, et al., (2013), the Supreme Court held that a federal law that excluded same-sex partners from the federal definition…

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United States Term Limits v. Thornton (1995)

A powerful movement for term limits developed during the 1980's. Most states adopted term limits for members of the state legislature (many governors were…

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U.S. Constitution (full document)

Contents 1THE U.S. CONSTITUTION AND AMENDMENTS 1.1ARTICLE I. 1.1.1Section 1. 1.1.2Section 2. 1.1.3Section 3. 1.1.4Section 4. 1.1.5Section 5. 1.1.6Section 6. 1.1.7Section 7. 1.1.8Section 8.…

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Law Enforcement

There is currently no text in this page. You can search for this page title in other pages, or search the related logs, but you do not…

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Federalism Timeline


Albany Plan, proposed by Benjamin Franklin, called for creation of a confederation with a general government having a Grand Council with members appointed by the colonial assemblies and a president-general appointed by the British Crown. Britain and the colonial assemblies rejected the plan.


Declaration of Independence, written mostly by Thomas Jefferson, was adopted in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on July 4, 1776, to announce and explain the 13 colonies’ separation from Great Britain. The colonies then regarded themselves as independent sovereign states and adopted constitutions. As such, the 13 states invented modern written constitutions.


Articles of Confederation, drafted by a committee of delegates from the 13 states and chaired by John Dickinson, was adopted by the Continental Congress on November 15 after a year-long debate on issues such as state sovereignty and exactly what powers would be delegated to the confederation.


Massachusetts Constitution, the first to expressly provide for a separation of powers and ratification by the people, is the world’s oldest written constitution still in effect.

State and Local Firsts
That Changed America

The states and their local governments have performed time-honored roles as constitutional and policy innovators in the federal system. In the earliest years of the republic, Virginia was the first state to adopt a constitutional bill of rights, New York established the first popularly elected chief executive, and Maryland first constitutionalized the separation of powers.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of the Center for the Study of Federalism (CSF)?

The Center for the Study of Federalism (CSF) is a nonpartisan, interdisciplinary research and education institution dedicated to supporting and advancing scholarship and public understanding of federal theories, principles, institutions, and processes as practical means of organizing power in free societies.

Who are the Fellows at the Center for the Study of Federalism?

All of the CSF Fellows hold advanced degrees, are affiliated with academic institutions, and are scholarly experts in their fields. For more on each Fellow see CSF Fellows.

What is the purpose of the CSF website?

Most political and public issues in the United States are influenced to some extent by its federal system. Yet many do not understand that system. The CSF website seeks to foster a better understanding among the general public and scholars of federal governing systems generally and, specifically, of the federal system of government in the United States of America.

Are the materials on the Center for the Study of Federalism website copyright-protected?

The CSF materials are free to use for educational purposes. If published, please acknowledge CSF as the source. If you intend to use these materials for profit, please, contact the Center for the Study of Federalism for permission. Some materials on the website are not owned by CSF and permission to use those materials should be sought with those holding legal title to the material.

How do I sign-up for the CSF listserv?

Click here to sign-up to receive notifications about CSF materials and events. We will not share your email with any outside organizations or individuals.

Who do I contact for questions or comments about your programs and the information provided on this website?

Please direct all questions and comments related to this website, and inquiries about the research and teaching grants and awards, to us here. Remember CSF is a nonpartisan, interdisciplinary research and education institution.