(USA Features) While our federalist system is held out as an anachronism by many, especially in academia, the fact is it is working as our founders designed during the current coronavirus pandemic, experts note.
The issue has come front and center after a dispute appears to have arisen between President Donald Trump and the various state governors over who can reopen the country and get businesses reopened while putting Americans back to work.
As reports surfaced over the weekend that various state governors were considering reopening their economies in the coming days, Trump startled even many of his supporters when he took to Twitter to insist that only he has the authority to do that.
The fact is, under the U.S. system, governors have far more authority when it comes to dealing with such emergencies than a president, say constitutional experts.
“In our federal system, the federal government exists to support the actions of state and local governments,” Thomas A. Birkland, an associate dean at North Carolina State University, told the Washington Times. “The federal government doesn’t run the fire department. The local governments run the fire department.”
Right now, it is state and local leaders who are making the decisions about how best to respond to a virus that is indeed spreading across the country.
But the federal government’s role is to assist states in those responses and support them in their efforts. Congress, for instance, has taken up the role of banker, the Times notes, while the president can merely use his bully pulpit to make suggestions and give advice, which he has done.
The one exception thus far has been the president’s decision, as commander-in-chief, to order U.S. military assets to assist states. But other than that, he doesn’t have the constitutional power to order states to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic in any meaningful way, the experts maintain.
“If he did try to do that, it would be complicated,” Ilya Somin, a law professor at George Mason University, told the paper.
That said, Democrats mostly have been calling on the president to issue a national shutdown order, though he has refused to do so specifically because of our federalist system.
“We have a thing called the Constitution,” the president reminded reporters on Saturday as he defended governors who haven’t issued shutdown orders. “I want the governors to be running things.”