While the Constitution’s system of checks and balances often breaks down, giving the White House too much power (see here and here), recent action by California reflects the important role that the states play in containing presidential action.

As the New York Times recently reported, California has reached agreements with some of the major automakers to reject a Trump Administration relaxation of fuel economy standards. Instead, the companies will adhere to the kind of strict auto emission standards that the Obama Administration adopted in 2012. Under the 2012 federal standards, automakers would need to achieve an average fuel economy for new cars and trucks of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The Trump Administration announced plans last year to reduce fuel economy requirements to 37 miles per gallon.

Of course, the checks and balances provided by the states (“federalism”) can cut both ways. Here, California is acting to preserve a federal policy that will address the problem of climate change. Other states have tried to block federal policies that address other important needs, as with the lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act.

Still, as the Framers of the Constitution recognized, we’re better off overall when Presidents cannot take unilateral action. An unrestrained executive can do considerable damage to the country.

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