Publication Date



The central goal of a federal system is for local government units to retain degrees of independence, specifically over matters of importance to that local unit. A logical corollary to that independence is the ability for local units to negotiate and contract with other local units on matters of importance. Therefore, it is not surprising that almost every federal system allows, either implicitly or explicitly, member states to form binding compacts with other states, the union government, or municipalities.1 Some federal democracies even allow member states to compact with foreign governments. Furthermore, almost every federal constitution includes a provision outlining the settlement of interstate disputes. However, the specific legal authority allowing states to enter into compacts and the system governing the settlement of those disputes vary. This variance is mostly because interstate compacts walk a fine line between the division of powers delegated amongst state and federal actors; because of this, interstate compact disputes can be incredibly complicated.

Additionally, interstate compacts raise another, less obvious, area of difficulty; because one of the main purposes of interstate compacts is to maintain some degree of state independence and because the compacts often exist in the grey areas of shared powers, many states would prefer a compact that can be enforced without federal intervention. However, since federal governments often hold authority over the states, states have few avenues for enforcement that do not involve the union government. A former Center for Constitutional Democracy Fellow, Harrison Schafer, began this research by looking at types of interstate associations and compacts and their relative efficacy. This paper will expand on Schafer’s research and specifically look at the source of authority for creating interstate compacts, the dispute resolution mechanisms for those compacts, how effectively systems settle disputes in practice, and examples of how states settled interstate compact disputes without the union government.