Government » American Federalism » The Division of Powers

Summarizing the Division of Powers


bill of attainder

a legislative action declaring someone guilty without a trial; prohibited under the Constitution

concurrent powers

shared state and federal powers that range from taxing, borrowing, and making and enforcing laws to establishing court systems


a process in which powers from the central government in a unitary system are delegated to subnational units

elastic clause

the last clause of Article I, Section 8, which enables the national government “to make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying” out all its constitutional responsibilities

ex post facto law

a law that criminalizes an act retroactively; prohibited under the Constitution


an institutional arrangement that creates two relatively autonomous levels of government, each possessing the capacity to act directly on the people with authority granted by the national constitution

full faith and credit clause

found in Article 4, Section 1 of the Constitution, this clause requires states to accept court decisions, public acts, and contracts of other states; also referred to as the comity provision

privileges and immunities clause

found in Article 4, Section 2 of the Constitution, this clause prohibits states from discriminating against out-of-staters by denying such guarantees as access to courts, legal protection, and property and travel rights

unitary system

a centralized system of government in which the subnational government is dependent on the central government, where substantial authority is concentrated

writ of habeas corpus

a petition that enables someone in custody to petition a judge to determine whether that person’s detention is legal

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