'Progressive Federalism' Comes to Washington

By Dan Froomkin
12:56 PM ET, 01/30/2009

Is President Obama embracing states' rights? Odd as that may be for a liberal African American, yes. That's because these days, on regulatory issues at least, the states are often more progressive than the lobbyist-clogged federal government.

John Schwartz writes in the New York Times: "The Obama administration seems to be open to a movement known as 'progressive federalism,' in which governors and activist state attorneys general have been trying to lead the way on environmental initiatives, consumer protection and other issues, several constitutional experts say.

"A recent decision by President Obama that could open the way for California and other states to set their own limits on greenhouse gases from cars and trucks represents a shift in the delicate and often acrimonious relationship between the federal government and the states, legal experts say, possibly signaling a new view of federalism....

"The general trend under previous administrations had favored federal pre-emption, the belief that the best law comes from Washington, a concept still favored by business leaders...

"Many liberal thinkers skeptical of states’ rights and state actions since the days of segregation have begun to see that the states, to use Justice Louis Brandeis’s words from the 1930s, can 'serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.'"

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