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Federalism Summit

Last Updated: 2006

The States’ Federalism Summit was a three-day conference held in October 1995 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to assess the state of American federalism and to consider a set of administrative, statutory, and constitutional proposals to restore a better balance of power between the states and the federal government. The proposals had been developed by a Scholars Advisory Committee consisting of Stewart A. Baker, Charles Cooper, Daniel J. Elazar, A. E. Dick Howard, Jon Felde, Barry Friedman, John Kincaid (committee chair), Deborah Jones Merritt, Charles Rothfeld, and Robert Silvanik. The summit was composed of more than 120 elected state executive and legislative leaders, most of whom were members of the executive committees of the Council of State Governments, National Governors’ Association, National Conference of State Legislatures, American Legislative Exchange Council, and State Legislative Leaders’ Foundation. These five organizations cosponsored the summit. Leadership for the summit was provided principally by Governor Michael O. Leavitt (R-UT), Governor Ben Nelson (D-NE), and State Senate President Stanley J. Aronoff (R-OH).

The States’ Federalism Summit concluded that the following four remedial options merited “further consideration and exploration of opportunities for common action” by state leaders:

1. A federalism statute to be enacted by Congress to enhance the political safeguards of federalism and to give states a more effective voice in congressional deliberations by, among other things, requiring members of Congress to identify the constitutional sources of their authority to legislate on specific subjects and giving state leaders a larger role in shaping federal rule making

2. A constitutional amendment (labeled the National Reconsideration Amendment) to provide the people of the states, through their legislatures, the power to require the Congress to reconsider laws, specific provisions of laws, or executive regulations that interfere with state authority by allowing two-thirds of the state legislatures to repeal a federal law or regulation, subject to subsequent override by a two-thirds vote of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate

3. A constitutional amendment to allow three-fourths of the state legislatures to propose amendments to the U.S. Constitution, subject to subsequent ratification by a two-thirds vote of the U.S. House and the U.S. Senate

4. A statute or constitutional amendment to provide states the following kinds of relief from federal regulatory and fiscal burdens:

a. No state would be obligated, without its consent, to enact or enforce any state law or regulation or to administer any federal regulatory program imposed by a law enacted by the Congress.

b. No condition (i.e., rule or regulation) imposed by a law enacted by the Congress on federal funds received by the states would be valid unless the condition was stated clearly and did no more than specify the purposes for which, or manner in which, the funds were to be spent by the states.

c. No obligation imposed on the states by a law enacted by the Congress would be enforceable against the states unless the federal government provided the affected states with the funds needed to pay the states’ costs of complying with the federal obligation.

Some critics accused the summit of being a covert attempt to instigate a constitutional convention that could significantly rewrite the U.S. Constitution. The summit’s proposals also were opposed by numerous interest groups, such as business, civil rights, and environmental groups that support assertions of federal power over the states. Many local government officials expressed concerns about the summit as well, in part because they believed they should have been invited by the state leaders to participate in the summit. In addition, the urgency of the summit’s proposals was weakened by congressional enactment of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995, which assuaged the concerns about unfunded federal mandates that had been expressed by many state and local leaders. As a result, even though the summit’s state leaders lobbied the Congress and sought to build public support for the summit’s proposals, none of the proposals were enacted into law or added to the U.S. Constitution.

SEE ALSO: States’ Rights


Council of State Governments, Restoring Balance in the Federal System: A Report of the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee (Lexington, KY: Council of State Governments, 1989); and Council of State Governments, Restoring Balance to the American Federal System: A Report of the Proceedings of the 1995 States’ Federalism Summit (Lexington, KY: Council of State Governments, 1996).