States Are Not Federal Appendages

Alex Christy
3 min readMar 17, 2020


The COVID-19 pandemic is going to force the country to address some fundamental public policy concerns when it eventually ends. Those concerns so far include the wisdom of FDA red tape and a further re-evaluation of our relationship with China. But there is another concern that has shown itself and that is just how many people do not understand the basics of the American system of government.

Consider this tweet from Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl:

Because that’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works.

France and Spain are unitary states, meaning all power resides in the center, cities and municipalities notwithstanding. Any devolved power manifested in sub-national units, such as the Scottish Parliament in the United Kingdom, exist at the blessing of the national government. Westminister could dissolve the Scottish Parliament tomorrow and there’s not a legal thing Scotland can do about it. The reason it does not, is because it wants to keep a lid on separatism.

By contrast the states of New York and Washington — the two hardest hit by COVID-19 thus far — exist independently of the federal government. They cannot be dissolved and they have powers independent of the feds. The President of the United States does not have power over local school districts. That is why governors have taken most of the steps so far in terms of closing schools, restaurants, and large public gatherings.

But, it is not just sports writers, it is also people who get paid to give their political opinions for a living.

“Filling the vacuum” implies that the feds have authority to close down gyms, but declined to and therefore the states are having to pick up the slack. But absent martial law, the feds are never going to have the power to shut down other wise law-abiding businesses.

Here’s another tweet from Molly Jong-Fast:

Umm, yeah? The states govern themselves as that is what the system describes. The states are not vassals. They do not exist to carry out the federal government’s orders in exchange for some grants.

It’s also quite interesting that many of the people who accuse Trump of acting like a dictator who is shredding the Constitution, all of a sudden want him to shred the Constitution and act like a dictator.

The reason for sub-national units is because countries of such large size and population are hard to govern. One size fits all rules are often dumb rules. It is much easier for Albany to manage problems for 19.5 million people or Olympia to manage problems for 7.5 million than it is for D.C. to manage problems for 327.2 million. And if you do not like the way you’re state is run, you can move. It’s much more difficult to move to another country.

The federal government can make decisions that affect the whole country, such as who is allowed in from foreign hot spots and who isn’t. They can make recommendations, but there is no way that the federal government, whether it’s President Donald Trump or President Joe Biden, is competent enough decisions regarding the Mukilteo School District. The fact that neither Trump nor Biden could tell you where Mukilteo is, is in part why the Constitution forbids them from doing so.



Alex Christy

Writing about politics and other interesting things. Contributing Writer to NewsBusters. Member of YAF’s National Journalism Center’s Spring 2019 class.