Difference Between State and Federal Legislation

State vs Federal Legislation

In a democratic system of governance, there is a federal or central government along with state or provincial governments in place, and the level of autonomy and the relations between the federal and the state governments are clearly spelt out in the constitution of the country. In United States (we can talk about Australia, Canada, or even India in this regard), there are governments at the federal, state and local levels, and at these levels, there are three branches of governance namely executive, legislative, and judicial. The reason why people are today talking about differences between federal and state legislation is because of the incongruence heavily skewed in favor of the federal government, which is prompting people (citizens of states) to ask if we are indeed becoming slaves of the federal government.

There is no doubt about the fact that the federal government is very large and powerful. It is a behemoth giving employment to millions of people belonging to different states. The federal legislation is the supreme law of the land, which is what prompts conflict between the federal and state legislation. However, there is only limited supreme authority of federal legislation over state legislation, and there are instances where states have granted broader rights to their citizens than the federal constitution has. This is, however, contingent upon these laws not infringing upon federal constitutional rights. This is primarily the reason why we see the difference in state laws on a given subject as we move from one state to another.

It is to be recognized that all 50 states of the Union are sovereign having their own constitution, governments, and courts having power to make laws covering subjects that are left for them and not preempted by the federal constitution. For example, in Indian constitution, there is a central list of subjects, a state list, and a concurrent list, where both centre and states have the power to make laws. However, central law is placed above state law, especially, if it contradicts the spirit of the constitution. In US, if there is a case where interpretation of state and federal laws is necessary, this is done by the Supreme Court of the state.

One look at the constitution, it becomes clear that most of the important laws pertaining to defense, international relations, treaties, currency, financial system, homeland security etc are in the hands of the federal government and state governments have to toe the line of the federal legislations. However, most of the state laws are important for the citizens of the state and are unique, depending upon historical roots of the state and its geography and relations with adjoining states. Funding of elementary and secondary education, environmental issues, taxation policy of the state, health and human service, etc are some of the important state subjects on which state laws hold supreme.

What is the difference between State and Federal Legislation?

• The federal system of governance in US denotes sub national identities for its constituent states.

• State governments have political autonomy and have their own constitutions and government with courts.

• Thus, we have both federal laws, as well as state laws, and there are subjects over which only federal government can make laws, while there are subjects over which only states can make laws.

• In case of a dispute, the state supreme courts are authorized to decide the primacy of legislation

  • Jeffrey Babb

    nice but confusing