Federal Government vs State Government

Federal and state governments in the United States are two distinct levels of government, each with its own set of powers, responsibilities, and jurisdictions. They share authority and collaborate on certain matters, but they also operate independently within their designated spheres.

Federal Government

Legislative branch (Congress): This branch is responsible for making federal laws. It consists of two chambers: the Senate and the House of Representatives. Senators and Representatives are elected by the people and represent their interests in Washington, D.C.

Executive branch (The President): The President of the United States is the head of state and government. The executive branch is responsible for enforcing and administering federal laws, managing foreign affairs, and overseeing the federal bureaucracy. The President is also the Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces.

Judicial branch (Federal Courts): This branch interprets and applies the law, ensuring that it is consistent with the United States Constitution. The judicial branch includes the Supreme Court and various lower federal courts. Judges, including Supreme Court Justices, are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate.

Separation of powers: The US federal government operates under the principle of separation of powers, where each branch has distinct powers and responsibilities. The Constitution establishes a system of checks and balances to prevent any one branch from becoming too powerful, ensuring accountability.

Constitutional basis: The federal government's powers and limitations are defined by the United States Constitution. The Constitution outlines the structure of the government, enumerates its powers, and protects individual rights.

Federal laws and regulations: The federal government creates and enforces laws and regulations that apply to the entire country. Federal laws often cover areas such as national defence, foreign policy, immigration, interstate commerce, and civil rights.

National defence: The federal government maintains the armed forces, including the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard, to ensure the defence and security of the United States.

Foreign affairs: It is responsible for conducting foreign policy, negotiating treaties and agreements with other countries, and representing the United States on the international stage.

Treasury and currency: The federal government manages the national treasury and is responsible for monetary policy, including issuing currency and regulating financial institutions.

Census: The federal government conducts a national census every ten years to gather demographic and population data. This information is used for various purposes, including congressional representation and resource allocation.

Federal agencies: Various federal agencies and departments oversee specific policy areas, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the United States Postal Service (USPS), and many more.

Interstate commerce: The federal government regulates and oversees interstate commerce and trade to ensure consistency and fairness in the national economy.

Citizenship and immigration: It establishes and administers rules and procedures for citizenship, immigration, and naturalisation.

Civil rights protection: The federal government plays a significant role in protecting and enforcing civil rights, ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or other characteristics.

State Government

State constitutions: Each state has its own constitution that outlines its governance structure, powers, and limitations. These state constitutions can differ significantly from one state to another but must conform to the United States Constitution.

Legislative branch: State legislatures are responsible for making and passing state laws. They typically consist of two chambers: a Senate and a House of Representatives (or Assembly). State legislators are elected by the residents of their state.

Executive branch: Each state has a governor who serves as the chief executive officer of the state. The governor is responsible for enforcing state laws, overseeing the state bureaucracy, and managing the state's budget. Other executive officers, such as lieutenant governors, attorneys general, and state treasurers, are also elected or appointed in most states.

Judicial branch: State courts interpret and apply state laws and constitutions. These courts include trial courts, appellate courts, and, in some states, a state supreme court. Judges are typically elected, appointed, or follow a combination of both methods, depending on the state.

State laws and regulations: State legislatures create laws and regulations that apply within the boundaries of the state. These laws cover a wide range of issues, including education, transportation, healthcare, criminal justice, and more.

Education: State governments have primary authority over public education, including the funding, curriculum, and administration of public schools within their states. They also establish educational standards and regulations.

Law enforcement and public safety: State governments oversee law enforcement agencies, including state police and local law enforcement departments. They are responsible for maintaining public safety and enforcing state criminal laws.

Transportation: States are responsible for building and maintaining state highways, bridges, and other transportation infrastructure. They also regulate motor vehicles, issue driver's licenses, and oversee public transportation systems.

Healthcare: State governments play a significant role in regulating healthcare, licensing healthcare providers, and administering Medicaid programs for low-income residents.

Criminal justice: State governments have jurisdiction over most criminal offeces and operate state prisons and correctional facilities. State courts handle criminal cases within their boundaries.

Elections: States administer elections, including voter registration, polling places, and the conduct of state and local elections. They also play a role in the administration of federal elections.

Natural resources: States have authority over the management of natural resources within their borders, including water rights, land use, and environmental regulations.

Social services: State governments administer social services, such as welfare programs, housing assistance, and support for vulnerable populations.

Taxation and revenue: States collect taxes and fees to fund their operations and public services. Tax policies and rates can vary widely from state to state.

Local governments: States delegate certain powers and responsibilities to local governments, including counties, cities, and municipalities. Local governments have their own elected officials and authority over local matters.

Emergency management: State governments coordinate emergency response efforts, disaster relief, and preparedness planning within their states.

Federal and state governments collaborate and sometimes share responsibilities in areas like healthcare, transportation, and disaster response. However, they also maintain their own autonomy, which is a fundamental aspect of the US system of federalism. This division of powers helps balance centralised authority with local autonomy and allows for flexibility in addressing the diverse needs of the country's citizens.
Back to blog

UOL Case Bank

Upon joining, you become a valuable UOL student and gain instant access to over 2,100 case summaries. UOL Case Bank is constantly expanding. Speed up your revision with us now.

Subscribe Now

Where are our students from?

Yale University
Council of Europe
Baker Mckenzie 
University of Chicago
Columbia University
New York University
University of Michigan 
University College London (UCL)
London School of Economics (LSE)
King’s College London (KCL)
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Zurich
University of York
Brandeis University
University of Exeter
University of Sheffield
Boston University
University of Washington
University of Leeds
University of Law
Royal Holloway, University of London 
Birkbeck, University of London
SOAS, University of London
University of Kent
University of Hull
Queen’s University Belfast
Toronto Metropolitan University
Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
University of Buckingham

  • Criminal Practice

    Diagrams and Charts

    Our carefully designed diagrams and charts will guide you through complex legal issues.

  • Criminal Law

    Clear and Succinct Definitions

    Key concepts are concisely defined to help you understand legal topics quickly.

  • Property Law

    Statutory Provisions

    Statutory provisions are provided side by side with legal concepts to help you swiftly locate the relevant legislation.

  • Public Law

    Case Summaries

    We have summarised important cases for you so that you don't need to read long and boring cases.

  • Evidence

    Rules and Exceptions

    Rules and exceptions are clearly listed so that you know when a rule applies and when it doesn't.

  • Company Law


    Legal terms and key concepts are explained at the beginning of each chapter to help you learn efficiently.

  • Case Law

    Case law is provided side by side with legal concepts so that you know how legal principles and precedents were established.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Law Essay Guide

    You will learn essential law exam skills and essay writing techniques that are not taught in class.

  • Law Exam Guide

    Problem Question Guide

    We will show you how to answer problem questions step by step to achieve first-class results.

  • Conflict of Laws

    Structured Explanations

    Complex legal concepts are broken down into concise and digestible bullet point explanations.

  • Legal System and Method

    Legal Research

    You will learn legal research techniques with our study guide and become a proficient legal researcher.

  • Jurisprudence and Legal Theory


    All essential concepts, principles, and case law are included so that you can answer exam questions quickly.