With sudden, fearsome ruthlessness, the pandemic has laid bare the essential weaknesses — and, yes, also strengths — of America’s unique federal structure. When Washington proved slow in responding to the novel coronavirus, states including California, Ohio and New York moved aggressively, imposing stay-at-home measures, closing parks and ramping up testing spaces to head off an even deadlier disaster. At the same time, our decentralized approach has left us with a patchwork system in which citizens in some states remain vulnerable.
With the president eager to reopen the economy May 1 — and clashing with governors over who has the power to do so — the question of the relative power of states vs. the federal government has rarely been more important. The Constitution is largely on the side of the states. Certainly, President Trump doesn’t hold ultimate authority over local public health matters. At the same time, there are aspects of this crisis to which states simply can’t respond individually.
California, Oregon and Washington — and, separately, seven Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states — announced this week that they would collaborate as they consider cautiously restarting their economies; a group of Midwestern states may follow. But these states could go an important step further by establishing “interstate compacts,” a legally binding form of coordination sanctioned by law. They could thereby retain some of the advantages of local autonomy yet also gain some of the benefits of larger coordination. The White House could challenge these compacts — but it’s unlikely to prevail, absent a major change to constitutional law.
Read more at The Washington Post