Source: Richard A. Posner, How Judges Think (2008).

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  Breyer is one of the nationalists, despite his acknowledgment that a nation as populous as the United States needs a federal system in order to give the citizenry a sense of full participation in political life because

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issues at the state and local levels are often both more important and more intelligible to people than issues involving the national govern-ment. Disagreeing with a majority of his colleagues,25 he argues that the federal government should be allowed to compel state officials to assist in enforcing federal law, as by requiring local sheriffs to check on com- pliance with federal gun control laws. He thinks that unless the federal government can force state officials to assist in administering federal programs, it will need a larger bureaucracy and so will expand at the ex- pense of state and local government. [2.] A more likely consequence of fed-eral commandeering of state officials would be more federal programs because some of [1.] their costs would have been shifted from the federal treasury to the states. State officials would be drafted as de facto federal employees That is the antithesis of federalism.

25Printz, New York

  1. What's the referent of 'their' in 1?

  2. I don't understand the bold. If the federal government commandeers state officials, then it'd expend more money, and so have less money for (more) federal programs?

  • Not sure if this is on-topic here. It seems mostly a language issue (meaning of “commandeer” and grammar).
    – chirlu
    Jan 20, 2018 at 9:23

2 Answers 2


What's the referent of 'their' in 1?

"[F]ederal programs"

Some of the costs of those federal programs are shifted from the federal government to the state governments by commandeering. That makes the federal programs cheaper.

I don't understand the bold. If the federal government commandeers state officials, then it'd expend more money, and so have less money for (more) federal programs?

No. Pretty much the reverse of that. It (the federal government) would expend less money, as the states have to pay the commandeered workers to perform tasks for the federal government. Because federal programs with commandeering cost less than federal programs without commandeering, having commandeering lowers the cost of the federal programs to the federal government. So the federal government can get more result for less federal government money than it it paid for all the costs itself.

If the federal government switches existing federal programs to a commandeering model, that frees up more federal money to spend on other programs. If the federal government is considering launching a new program, doing so with commandeering reduces the cost of the program. So the federal government has to make fewer sacrifices (any combination of higher taxes, borrowing, or cuts in existing programs) to fund the programs.

The flaw in this of course is that the states still have to pay for the commandeered resources. So it's not actually cheaper to the country. In fact, it may be more expensive to the country, since the commandeering structure may add overhead that would be unnecessary if the federal government ran the whole thing. But since it's cheaper in the resources that the federal government controls, the federal government is less worried about it.


State employees are paid by the states. If they (also) implement federal laws, that doesn’t cost the federal government money (at least as long as the states don’t request payment for their services).

“Their” refers to the “federal programs” mentioned before. The costs of those programmes are covered in part by the states, in this scenario.


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