What Is This Blog? Are States and Local Governments Democracies? Those and Other Animating Questions

Given the great people involved, I would be excited and proud to be a part of this new venture no matter when it started. But I am particularly excited about it now because we are launching at a moment in American history when deep questions about the nature of state and local governance are very much in the news.

Law school classes frequently focus on federalism, but do so with lots of talk about the Federalist Papers or Supreme Court opinions that reason from theory about how a multi-level democracy should work. Other classes focus on state law, particularly common law areas like torts and contracts. But law school classes much more rarely focus on how states and cities function as governing entities. It turns out that, perhaps unsurprisingly, theories of how multi-level democracy might work rarely match the actual practice of state and local governance, particularly where those theories leave out the role of mediating institutions (like political parties or the press). And the content of state law turns very heavily on the structure of state governing institutions – state administrative law, the powers of local or state executives, legislative districting, and so forth.

At its best, I think this blog will start in a very different place from most efforts that discuss federalism, starting with facts of state and local governance – regulations, decisions, elections, processes – and only then turning to what they explain about broader ideas about multi-level democracy

What I suspect our talented group of contributors will find is that state and local governance is in a really bad place. The U.S. Constitution guarantees to its citizens that states maintain a “republican form of government.” While courts rarely enforce this clause, I think there are now real questions about whether state and local governments are provide republican government, or rather whether they are sufficiently thick democracies that they deserve the term.

Elections: Some of our authors will write about the huge fights were are seeing across the country about election law. But beyond debates over methods of election administration, state and local elections face a deeper problem. The fundamental truth of state elections – as Daniel Hopkins, Steve Rogers, Chris Elmendorf and I among others have written about– is that voter opinion abo