Richard C. Schragger

The City in the Future of Federalism

Oxford University Press


Cities have been largely absent from the theory and doctrine of federalism, especially in the US, where federalism discourse is invariably preoccupied with states. This chapter first considers the mismatch between cities’ increasing economic, political, and sociological importance and their relative lack of status in constitutional theory. Second, it discusses the use and definition of the term ‘city’—a threshold issue that drives much subsequent theorizing about it. And third, it considers the various ways institutional designers might go about empowering the city. These observations lay the groundwork for the broader argument that state-based federalism is bad for cities. The ‘old’ federalism, based on the theory that sub-national governments are sharply limited in their policy choices by the threat of capital flight, presumed weak and ineffectual cities—a presumption that has become self-fulfilling in the US, where states have been aggressively reducing and restraining city power. A ‘new’ federalism would recognize the central role of cities in an urban-based political and economic order and provide them powers commensurate with that role. As global urbanization continues apace, the urban–rural political divide deepens, and nation-states face repeated crises of legitimacy, the necessity of building the city into our constitutional institutions becomes increasingly apparent.


Richard C. Schragger, The City in the Future of Federalism, in Erika Arban Cities in Federal Constitutional Theory, Oxford University Press, 204–221 (2022).

More in This Category

  • Studies of federalism, especially in the United States, have mostly centered on state autonomy and the vertical relationship between the states and... MORE
  • Constitutional review is the power of a body, usually a court, to assess whether law or government action complies with the constitution. Originating... MORE
  • In 2018, Congress rightly highlighted the problem of sex trafficking, which is a moral abomination and vicious scourge. It condemned sites like... MORE