In these court confrontations, tellingly, lies a key difference in how progressives and conservatives employ federalism. For conservatives, it’s all about stopping executive policy they don’t like: Texas alone spearheaded efforts to invalidate federal rules and directives aimed at protecting transgender students and patients, workers considering joining a union, and the undocumented parents of American citizens and permanent residents — all in the name of upholding the Constitution and laws and their state budgets and businesses. Progressives, on the other hand, really like some of these policies and have jumped in the fray to save them from non-enforcement or outright repeal by the Trump administration. And in the face of new actions by Trump’s team, their strategy has been to play offense, as in the bid by “sanctuary” states and localities to get the federal government to leave them alone on immigration.
These interventions have emboldened the Democratic base and maybe even contributed to the political aspirations of attorneys general and other local politicians. Federalism is now a tool to #resist. But is there a principled way for progressives to seize the moment and learn to love federalism for federalism’s sake, rather than just as a means to score political points against Trump or salvage a policy they favor?