The modern Supreme Court drama over the relationship of the national government to the states largely has played out on a modest stage: the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The apparent plot line in all of the Court’s recent decisions in this area – although they have varied wildly in their outcomes – is to reduce the friction between federal and state governments over state employee wages. Last term’s decision in Alden v. Maine, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999), is superficially the most pro-state decision of all.