The Political Economy of Cooperative Federalism: Why State Autonomy Makes Sense and “Dual Sovereignty” Doesn’t

It is commonplace to observe that “dual federalism” is dead, replaced by something variously called “cooperative federalism,” “intergovernmental relations,” or “marble-cake federalism.” According to this conventional wisdom, state and local officials do not enforce merely their own laws in their distinct policymaking sphere. Rather, as analyzed in a voluminous literature, state and local governments also cooperate with the federal government in many policymaking areas, ranging from unemployment insurance to historic preservation. These nonfederal governments help implement federal policy in a variety of ways: by submitting implementation plans to federal agencies, by promulgating regulations, and by bringing administrative actions to enforce federal statutes. Thus, cooperative federalism offers us a vision of independent governments working together to implement federal policy. But what happens if this harmonious relationship breaks down? What if state and local governments refuse to “cooperate”? Can the federal government force the state and local governments to implement federal policy? Or is the federal government able to rely only on the voluntary participation of state and local governments?