States v. Federal Government | Pt. 1 Foreign Affairs

Everything is opposite now. As the Trump Administration starts issuing regressive executive orders, China preaches the virtues of globalization and democrats find themselves voicing sentiments which sound like states’ and cities’ rights. While California and Boston are two unsurprising strong-holds for ideas in support of progressivism, the Democratic Party’s focus on governors and state-level legislature elections makes it clear that even nationally — the name of the political game is now “states” (and also “redistricting,” but let’s discuss that later).

Democrats should do this right. States are not merely the planks on a bridge towards the presidency in 2020, but intrinsically valuable places of service which demand permanent infrastructure. Whether out of virtue or vice (ALEC…probably more vice), Republicans focused more on this level and now reap the fruits. Like Democrats now, they learned to focus on states during their own wilderness years which ended with the Republican Revolution of ’94, and now culminates in federal dominance.

To learn more about states, I am trying to figure out how to move back to Michigan. In the meanwhile, I am talking with leaders and binge-reading a few books.

Two books in particular are commentaries of sorts on Louis Brandeis’s saying that a “state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.”

Book tldr: Foreign Affairs Federalism

From Boston University’s website at a launch event: “ Foreign Affairs Federalism challenges the assertion that the federal government has complete control over US foreign policymaking, arguing that cities and states have become increasingly active in the realm of foreign policy. Sloane and Glennon cite examples of cities limiting greenhouse gas emissions, declaring nuclear free zones, and establishing sister-city relationships to illustrate their argument.”

The book starts by covering the constitutional debates about the role of the states and federal government in foreign affairs, and rehashes some of the traditional arguments for (efficiency, innovation, freedom) and against (lack of uniformity in voice, risk of one state jeopardizing a national interest).


Starting with the conclusion that the Federal government has failed to deal with globalization or state specific problems, the remainder of the chapter details twelve tools cities and states use in the global arena. Of particular interest in the Trump era are “State Foreign Policy Statements,” for instance:

“During the 1980s more than twenty-eight cities and communities declared themselves sanctuaries for refugees from Central America. Some ordered their law enforcement officials not to cooperate with agents of the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service seeking to track down undocumented immigrants from Central America. In 1985, New York City mayor Edward Koch prohibited city employees from reporting non-criminal illegal immigrants. In the 1980s, more than two hundred cities adopted resolutions supporting a treaty banning the testing of nuclear weapons. During the Vietnam War, at least seven cities held referenda on the conflict, and three measures opposing the war received majority support. More recently, more than one hundred cities adopted resolutions disapproving the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq.” (pg 70–71).

If I may be as so forward to say, the next few chapters are not light bedtime reading. You can find titles for Ch 3–9 in the link above.


The last chapter makes an important but not quite complete case for the unique legal roles states must play in cyber security, building on the past successes with data security laws. This of course is premised on the weakness of federal and international attempts to address cyber threats.

Overall, some considerations were missing from this legally focused book which makes forays into non-legal matters, for instance, on the role states should play in adjusting federal commerce/trade policies based on the disparate outcomes of such policies upon the states (EIG is doing some great research here). Still, it is ultimately a book about law, not economics or technology.

Notes coming soon in Pt. 2: