Do Local Governments Really Have Too Much Power? Understanding the National League of Cities’ Principles of Home Rule for the 21st Century
This Article is an explanation and defense of the National League of Cities’ (NLC) Principles of Home Rule for the Twenty-First Century, which the authors participated in drafting. The Principles both articulates a vision of state-local relations appropriate to an urban age and, as with previous efforts stretching back to the Progressive Era, includes a model constitutional home rule article designed to serve as the foundation for state-level constitutional law reform. The Article explains the origins of the Principles project, outlines the major components of the model constitutional provision, and defends the model against a set of criticisms common to this and past reform efforts. Necessitated by the increasingly hostile relationship between cities and their states, the Principles is meant to reset the state-local relationship to better align local legal authority with the actual role that local governments play in contemporary governance. Cities currently do not have sufficient authority to address the basic problems of urban governance. And the global pandemic has illustrated the widening gap between cities and their states over even the most basic of public health and safety issues. Cities are seeking to address these and other constituent concerns but are regularly stymied by state law often aggressively deployed to punish local officials and limit their democratic responsiveness. A reformed home rule is an essential aspect of the states’ “internal federalism” and crucial to addressing the challenges of twenty-first century governance.