Molecular Federalism and the Structures of Private Lawmaking

42 Pages Posted: 24 May 2007

See all articles by David V. Snyder

David V. Snyder

Washington College of Law, American University

Date Written: April 2007


This symposium contribution explores molecular federalism, an idea floated briefly in the author's earlier work on private lawmaking. The many private lawmakers - ranging from familiar organizations like the American Law Institute and the New York Stock Exchange to less well known ones, like the International Chamber of Commerce and associations of banks - are here envisioned as part of a federalist scheme that operates at a molecular level rather than at the level of the state. Assuming that many private entities have de facto lawmaking power, as suggested in the earlier paper, their function and legitimacy, and the strengths and weaknesses of private lawmaking, are assessed under the rubric of federalism.

The paper takes up both horizontal and vertical aspects of molecular federalism, considering the possibilities of competitive private lawmaking and the potential for (and limits of) governmental control. The article accounts for the extraterritoriality of private lawmaking and considers how private legislation may escape some of the vertical checks and balances associated with state-based federalism, not only through extraterritoriality, but also through some surprising shifts in the federalist hierarchy. The paper also explores the question of how one legal regime can become dominant, while other contexts may suffer legal fragmentation. The paper attempts to place its analysis within the context of some prominent U.S. theorists of federalism, including Herbert Wechsler and Justice Brennan, and contemporary European theorists, such as Gunther Teubner. The conclusion is that molecular federalism, like its state-based counterpart, produces mixed results, and often in a way that accentuates both the strengths and the weaknesses of state-based federalism. The paper also suggests that a constitution for private lawmaking, or a similar system of meta-rules, may be necessary to allow private lawmaking to come closest to its potential.

Keywords: federalism, private lawmaking, private legislation

JEL Classification: K19, K34

Suggested Citation

Snyder, David V., Molecular Federalism and the Structures of Private Lawmaking (April 2007). CLPE Research Paper No. 1/2007. Available at SSRN: or

David V. Snyder (Contact Author)

Washington College of Law, American University ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

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