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Teacher Talking Points for Current Federalism Controversies

Optional Handout 4A: Federalism and Medical Marijuana Laws

Monson's Argument: Under California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act, Monson argued that it was legal for her to grow and smoke marijuana with her doctor's permission. Monson claimed that the federal government's intervention exceeded its constitutional power. California had the right to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes grown within the state and not sold to anyone. In addition, she argued that the state has the right to monitor the health and well-being of its citizens. She also stressed that her activities were noneconomic, and therefore the Commerce Clause did not apply.

Federal Government's Argument: The federal government took the position that it had the right to intervene because of its constitutional power to regulate interstate commerce. The Bush administration felt that medicinal marijuana use could affect the price and quantity of the substance on the black market. As a result, the government must strongly regulate the use of the drug to protect the public's health and safety.

Court's Decision: In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the federal government's right to regulate marijuana. The case was Gonzales v. Raich.

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Optional Handout #4B: Federalism and Physician-Assisted Suicide

Oregon's Argument: There are two main arguments for the state of Oregon. In 1997, the Supreme Court declined to decide if there was a constitutional right to physician-assisted suicide after hearing arguments for two "right to die" cases that year. Through the Court's ruling, it was suggested that the issue should be left to the states. Oregon also argued that it is within its rights to regulate the medical community within the state, including how drugs are prescribed under the national Controlled Substance Act of 1971.

Federal Government's Argument: The federal government suggested that Congress never envisioned that the Controlled Substance Act of 1971 would be used as a tool for assisted suicide. In addition, the federal government has the right to regulate controlled substances under the act, and any state laws must yield to the national guidelines set forth.

Court's Decision: In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oregon, stating that the Controlled Substances Act did not dictate how a doctor prescribed medicine.

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Optional Handout #4C: Federalism and the Debate Over a Proposal for a National School Test

State Governments' Argument: Some Republicans have argued that federalism grants the right to establish educational standards to the states. States should be able to determine content standards, methods of instruction, and assessment tools.

Federal Government's Argument: Those in support of a nationally mandated test argue that it would not impinge on federalism, but would only alter the application of the concept. States would still have influence on their educational system, just under national guidelines.

Court's Decision: As of 2006, the idea of a national test was still in the discussion stage. No law has been passed or tested in the courts.

Optional Handout #4D: Federalism and the Clash Over Federal and State Environmental Issues

State Government's Argument: The nation's environment has not been well preserved and suffers from pollution, which is ultimately having an impact on the health and well-being of citizens. If the federal government has failed to step in, then the states must act independently. Some have called this "federalism upside-down."

Federal Government's Argument: The concern of the federal government is that when each state has differing standards, the variations can also complicate interstate trade and economic development. The federal government argues that it is more effective when a national framework is set and states work within that framework.

Court's Decision: A case involving greenhouse gases is being argued in the Supreme Court during the 2006-2007 term. However, it is unclear whether the Court will base its decision on the federalism issue or on another issue.

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