12th Grade Government New York


This inquiry leads students through an investigation of the perennial power struggle between federal and state governments to legislate. By investigating the compelling question “Who has the power?” students will consider the role of state government in initiating the best legislation for its citizens, even in cases where state law conflicts with federal law. In investigating evidence from historic and contemporary sources, students develop an interpretation of federalism and begin to evaluate both the historic and contemporary arguments and issues that are, in the words of Chief Justice John Marshall, “perpetually arising, and will probably continue to arise, as long as our system shall exist.”


Compelling Question:

Who Has the Power?

Staging the Question:

Watch a seven-minute clip about Brittany Maynard and discuss the issue of assisted suicide in the United States.

Supporting Question How are federal and state powers constitutionally delineated?

Formative Task Research and annotate a Venn diagram illustrating the unique and shared powers of the state and federal government.

Sources Source A: Venn diagram on federalism
Source B: Excerpts from United States Constitution
Source C: Excerpts from New York State Constitution


Supporting Question What do experts say about the balance of power between the state and federal government?

Formative Task Write 1–2 sentence summaries of experts’ arguments on the balance of power between the state and federal government.

Sources Source A: Featured articles by political experts debating the role of state and federal government


Supporting Question How are public attitudes toward federalism changing?

Formative Task Conduct a class survey that mirrors the Pew and Cato public-attitude surveys and discuss the results.

Sources Source A: Excerpt from Views of Government: Key Data Points
Source B: Excerpt from Public Attitudes toward Federalism


Supporting Question Should state government have the power to legislate what is best for its citizens?

Formative Task Develop a claim about whether state government should have the power to decide what is best for its citizens.

Sources Possible case study sources for the following issues:
• Legal Drinking Age
• Environmental Protection

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Who has the power? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) that addresses the compelling question using specific claims and relevant evidence from contemporary sources while acknowledging competing perspectives.
Extension: To better understand the local community context, poll school and neighborhood populations on a controversial issue (e.g., same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana) and who has the power to legislate it.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: Investigate the challenges arising since the state of Colorado passed marijuana legislation in opposition to federal law.
Assess: Debate whether the Colorado state law is in the best interest of the citizens of Colorado and whether New York state law regarding marijuana legalization should change.
Act: Write a letter to a state representative that argues for or against New York state legalizing marijuana regardless of whether the federal government legalizes it.