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During this presidential election season, you probably haven't given too much thought to the issue of federalism, the relationship between the states and the federal government. But no issue divides Al Gore and George W. Bush more than on which levels of government power should lie. The question before voters, while complicated, is whether the federal government should retain the vast powers it has today or if more should be left to the states and the free market. The issue permeates most facets of American life, from who determines educational standards for our schools to whether the federal government is allowed to prosecute certain crimes. At its heart, this is a constitutional matter. The nation's founding document enumerates certain rights for the federal government, such as waging war and regulating interstate commerce, while reserving the remainder to the individual states. It wasn't until the 1930s that the federal government first assumed its current activist role in American life. Gore, the Democratic nominee, is in many ways the heir to Franklin Roosevelt, Lyndon Johnson and his current boss as a supporter of the modern regulatory state. Relying on a loose interpretation of the Constitution, the current administration has legislated vast new federal protections in areas once reserved for the states, such as gun control and domestic violence. Gore endorses federal regulatory powers over the environment and products like tobacco, and his Supreme Court would protect personal privacy rights -- including that to an abortion -- even though no such rights are mentioned in the Constitution. By his constant reminders that he trusts "the people," not Washington, GOP hopeful Bush would devolve much federal authority to states, individuals, faith-based organizations and the private sector. Should Bush win and the Republicans retain control of Congress, the legislature and the courts would be empowered to undertake the first major rollback of federal regulatory legislation in areas like the environment and consumer protection. This process has been underway in the judiciary since 1995, as strict constructionalists have overturned federal legislation like the Gun-Free School Zones and Violence Against Women acts, ruling that those issue areas belonged to the states. Bush has said he favors strict constructionalist justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, and his new appointees would only speed up this trend. In essence, Gore would maintain active regulation at the federal level, while Bush would have the federal government dissolve many of its laws and give the states and local governments the option to reconstitute them individually.

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