The Rising Effectiveness of Progressive Federalism

*This piece is part of the ACSblog Symposium: 2017 ACS National Convention. The symposium will consider topics featured at the three day convention, scheduled for June 8-10, 2017. 

When Ronald Reagan used his 1983 State of the Union Address to foreshadow a sweeping proposal to devolve vast powers from the federal government back to states and localities, he described his New Federalism initiative as an effort “to restore to states and local governments their roles as dynamic laboratories of change in a creative society.”

Liberal critics at the time regarded the New Federalism as a thin veiling for a full-scale federal retreat from progressive social policy — which, of course, it was. In subsequent years, as successive Congresses grappled with mounting budget deficits and as the federal bench grew increasingly conservative, Reagan’s efforts to return power to local governments would indeed take hold among his presidency’s most enduring legacies.

Today, progressive state and local governments should embrace the principles behind New Federalism as a way to push back against a federal administration that threatens constitutional protections and many of the values these localities hold. In the few months that President Donald Trump has been in office, state and local governments have successfully thwarted his attempts to carry out some of his most misguided initiatives.

When President Trump issued an executive order that sought to strip federal funding from sanctuary jurisdictions, San Francisco and other local governments acted swiftly to fight back. My office filed the first lawsuit in the nation to challenge the Executive Order, and the County of Santa Clara and other local jurisdictions soon followed us. In April, Federal Judge William Orrick issued a nationwide preliminary injunction that temporarily halted enforcement of the president’s executive order, recognizing the Executive Order likely violates the Separation of Powers, the Spending Clause, the Tenth Amendment, and other constitutional provisions.