A Less Perfect Union: The Case for States’ Rights


The founding generation valued political decentralization and created a federal government meant to exercise very few powers. Clearly, that is not the system we have today. In a powerful new book, legal scholar Adam Freedman explores where we came from and how we got here today. More importantly, he offers solutions.


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When our framers drafted the Constitution, they focused on one central theme – define what the new general government will do.  Throughout the Constitution, the federal government was delegated  specific tasks, the rest were left to the states and the people.  James Madison summarized this motif in Federalist #45.

“The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined. Those which are to remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”

This scheme was intended to remedy the natural progression towards centralized power.

So, why the inverse relationship we see today?

Freedman sets out to answer this question.

In A Less Perfect Union (Broadside Books 2015), Freedman recounts this erosion in vivid detail. Starting with the history of federalism, Freedman explains the appeal of decentralization, an intentional strategy to stay the abuse of power and keep political accountability local. And yet, this very quality has been the bane of federalism – and a sticking point for statists – since the very beginning.

Often, political theory books tend to leave the reader desiring more when it comes to solutions. Freedman, however, presents not only plausible but persuasive remedies. Most notably, by abolishing federal grants and cutting federal taxes proportionally, the states could again chart their own path – financially speaking. For example, the federal highway program commandeers state gas tax revenue and ultimately allocates it to many ­non-highway related programs. By keeping spending and revenue within the states, the people have more power in general.

The doctrine of anti-commandeering is also an “extremely powerful weapon,” according to Freedman. The idea that asserts the federal government can not force states to cooperate with federal law.  If the feds enact a law, the onus (and funds) is on them.   Backed by Supreme Court decisions such as New York v. United States, the states have more influence over their destiny than many are led to believe.

A Less Perfect Union gives even more inspiring solutions and overall is a comprehensive defense of federalism. By laying down the historical framework, leading with contemporary objections and concluding with a plan, Freedman encapsulates the States’ rights position handsomely.