Making Policy on Contested Ground: Navigating the Changing Relationship between States and the Federal Government

Professor: Selvin
Units: 0.5
Elective Course
Concentrations: Social and Behavioral Sciences

Ongoing, heated debates over voting rights, healthcare, immigration, abortion, and education underscore important shifts in the formal division of power between the states and the national government. These shifts highlight the role of judges as umpires in our federal system and of the US Constitution as a central and often unacknowledged player in federal and state public policy making, including in RAND research. As every school child learns, the Constitution divides responsibility for defining and implementing policy between the states and the national government. Some powers reside with the states alone and others are the exclusive domain of the federal government. This federalist system is a major reason the American system has endured, but responsibility for a great many key policy issues—and, indeed, the locus of much of RAND’s portfolio—resides in a shared space that is now highly contested. This course will explore current debates over that shared terrain by examining how judges and lawmakers are redefining federal and state roles in the context of pressing, contemporary issues. This dynamic federalism constrains some policy choices as it facilitates others, and understanding these changes is critical to defining effective policy recommendations.