The Supreme Court's federalism battleground has recently shifted from the Commerce Clause to two textually marginal but substantively important domains: the Necessary and Proper Clause and, to a lesser extent, the General Welfare Clause. For nearly a decade, these quieter, more structurally ambiguous federal powers – the “shadow powers” – have steadily increased in prominence. Paradoxically, the growth of shadow powers analysis has tended to narrow the permissible scope of congressional regulatory power. The invocation of the shadow powers has helped the Court find room to maneuver within its federalism analysis, while also appearing to maintain its commitment to an apparently unmoving baseline of a narrow commerce power. This maneuvering might be productive if it were carried out explicitly, with some discussion by the Court of the reasons for preferring to adjudicate federalism at its doctrinal and textual periphery rather than at its center. But the result of the growth of shadow powers analysis has in fact been to obscure the outlines of federalism’s map.
Alison LaCroix is Professor of Law and Ludwig and Hilde Wolf Teaching Scholar at the Law School. She is also an associate member of the University of Chicago Department of History. LaCroix received her BA summa cum laude in history from Yale University in 1996 and her JD from Yale Law School in 1999. She received her PhD in history from Harvard University in 2007 after earning an AM in history from Harvard in 2003. While in law school, LaCroix served as essays editor of the Yale Law Journal and managing editor of the Yale Journal of Law & the Humanities. From 1999 to 2001, she practiced in the litigation department at Debevoise & Plimpton in New York. Before joining the Law School faculty in 2006, she was a Samuel I. Golieb Fellow in Legal History at New York University School of Law.
This talk was recorded on January 28, 2015, as part of the Chicago’s Best Ideas lecture series.