United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 29 (1995)

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Cite as: 514 U. S. 549 (1995)

Kennedy, J., concurring

the two governments to hold accountable for the failure to perform a given function. "Federalism serves to assign political responsibility, not to obscure it." FTC v. Ticor Title Ins. Co., 504 U. S. 621, 636 (1992). Were the Federal Government to take over the regulation of entire areas of traditional state concern, areas having nothing to do with the regulation of commercial activities, the boundaries between the spheres of federal and state authority would blur and political responsibility would become illusory. Cf. New York v. United States, supra, at 155-169; FERC v. Mississippi, 456 U. S. 742, 787 (1982) (O'Connor, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part). The resultant inability to hold either branch of the government answerable to the citizens is more dangerous even than devolving too much authority to the remote central power.

To be sure, one conclusion that could be drawn from The Federalist Papers is that the balance between national and state power is entrusted in its entirety to the political process. Madison's observation that "the people ought not surely to be precluded from giving most of their confidence where they may discover it to be most due," The Federalist No. 46, p. 295 (C. Rossiter ed. 1961), can be interpreted to say that the essence of responsibility for a shift in power from the State to the Federal Government rests upon a political judgment, though he added assurance that "the State governments could have little to apprehend, because it is only within a certain sphere that the federal power can, in the nature of things, be advantageously administered," ibid. Whatever the judicial role, it is axiomatic that Congress does have substantial discretion and control over the federal balance.

For these reasons, it would be mistaken and mischievous for the political branches to forget that the sworn obligation to preserve and protect the Constitution in maintaining the federal balance is their own in the first and primary instance. In the Webster-Hayne Debates, see The Great Speeches and


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