For 11 years, the conservative wing of the US Supreme Court sought to tip the balance of power between the national government and the states. This so-called federalism revolution was aimed at bolstering the status of the states as dual sovereigns in the face of an ever-expanding sphere of federal power, reports the Christian Science Monitor. The justices wrote of state sovereignty and the dignity of the states in terms reminiscent of Colonial distrust of the kind of draconian central authority wielded by the British crown.
But by the time Chief Justice William Rehnquist died in 2005, the “revolution” resembled little more than a constitutional skirmish. Now with two new members of the Supreme Court, it is unclear whether the justices might again take up the mantle of states’ rights. Will a majority seek to boldly build on the string of federalism precedents handed down by the Rehnquist court, or will the judicial minimalism of Chief Justice John Roberts leave it to federal regulatory agencies and Congress to police the constitutional contours of federal-state power? The high court’s first significant opportunity to address those questions arrives in a case set for oral argument Wednesday.