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Bridging the fields of federalism and negotiation theory, Negotiating Federalism analyzes how public actors navigate difficult federalism terrain by negotiating directly with counterparts across state-federal lines. In contrast to the stylized, zero-sum model of federalism that pervades political discourse and judicial doctrine, the Article demonstrates that the boundary between state and federal power is negotiated on scales large and small, and on an ongoing basis. It is also the first to recognize the procedural tools that bilateral federalism bargaining offers to supplement unilateral federalism interpretation in contexts of jurisdictional overlap.

The Article begins by situating its inquiry within the age-old federalism discourse about which branch can best safeguard the values that give federalism meaning: Congress, through political safeguards; the Supreme Court, by judicially enforceable constraints; or the Executive, through administrative process. Yet each school of thought considers only how the branches operate unilaterally—on one side of the state-federal line or the other—missing the important ways that each one also works bilaterally across that line to protect federalism values through various forms of negotiated governance. Because unilateral interpretive methods fail to establish clear boundaries at the margins of state and federal authority, regulators increasingly turn to bilateral intergovernmental bargaining to allocate contested authority and facilitate collaboration in uncertain fed-eralism territory. Procedural constraints available within these negotia-tions can help bridge the interpretive gaps unresolved by more conven-tionally understood forms of interpretation.

Creating the first theoretical framework for organizing federalism bar-gaining, the Article provides a taxonomy of the different opportunities for state-federal bargaining available within various constitutional and statutory frameworks. Highlighting forms of conventional bargaining, negotiations to reallocate authority, and joint policymaking bargaining, the Article maps this vast, uncharted landscape with illustrations ranging from the 2009 Stimulus Bill to Medicaid to climate policy. The taxonomy demonstrates how widely federalism bargaining permeates American governance, including not only the familiar example of spending power deals, but also subtler forms that have escaped previous scholarly notice as forms of negotiation at all.

The Article then reviews the different media of exchange within feder-alism bargaining and the legal rules that constrain them, together with supporting data from primary sources. Finally, it evaluates how some forms of federalism bargaining—legitimized by the procedural constraints of mutual consent and the procedural engineering of regard for federalism values—can supplement unilateral interpretation. Differentiating itself from previous process-based claims, the analysis provides new theoretical justification for the interpretive work that federalism bargaining presently provides and calls for greater judicial deference to qualifying examples. Having offered recommendations about the kinds of federalism bargain-ing that should be encouraged, the Article offers recommendations for legislators, executive actors, stakeholders, practitioners, and adjudicators about how best to accomplish these goals.


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6 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Politics

  • Journal title
    • Boston College Law Review

  • Volume
    • 52

  • Issue
    • 1

  • Pagination
    • 1

  • Date submitted

    6 September 2022