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Recalibrating the Power Balance

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Not a shot has been fired. Nor have voices risen in anger. Yet the national government in Washington is today facing the most substantial threat to the expansion of its power in more than 60 years.

It has nothing to do with terrorist bombs, street demonstrations, or any hint of political chicanery. Rather, this quiet revolution involves carefully reasoned legal arguments in a constitutional dispute as old as the nation itself.

The battleground is the gleaming, white-columned halls of the US Supreme Court, where a slim majority of conservative justices are embarked on an effort to restore what they see as the proper balance of power between the federal and state governments.

The court's conservative wing, led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, believes Congress has grossly overstepped the limits of the "enumerated powers" written into the US Constitution by the Founding Fathers.

It is a debate that could fundamentally change America - from gun control to educating the nation's children.

In a series of rulings throughout the 1990s, the conservative justices have struck down what they concluded were impermissibly expansionist federal policies and initiatives. At the same time they have upheld the sovereignty of states and breathed new life into the 10th Amendment, which reserves to the states or to the American people all rights not specifically delegated to the federal government.

Federalism is the system of shared power between national and state governments set up by the Founding Fathers to help diffuse power and prevent the central government from becoming too strong. While Federalists in 1787 advocated creation of a powerful, central government, those advocating federalism today are seeking the resurgence of a federal/state balance as mandated in the Constitution.

Future course of government

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