State & Local Government Law Blog
In the legal academy, state and local governments tend to be an afterthought. It’s federal government, federal law, and the United States Supreme Court that get the lion’s share of attention. State and local government law seems relegated to junior varsity status at best.
A vision of this blog is that we can no longer afford to ignore state and local government law, if we ever could. States and federalism provide a second structural fulcrum designed to reinforce the separation of powers. State “laboratories of democracy” are also where, in 2018, 83.8 million legal cases were filed compared to some 370,000 in the federal trial courts (civil plus criminal). And American cities are where over 80% of us live. There are 335 US cities with populations between 100,000 and one million, in addition to 14 with populations over a million. Those places produce an overwhelming percentage of the US GDP. These are the layers of government with the greatest impact on our daily lives.
To be sure, invocations of “states’ rights” were for years a racist rallying cry, and city power has at times been code for cronyism. Commentators for years derided state government as a backwater, turning their gaze to the national level. But the history of state and local governance is all the more reason for today’s scholars and commentators to attend to subnational law, not a reason to look away.
This need is pressing. Recent events have underscored how much responsibility falls to states and local governments and how consequential their actions can be. Many state and local entities have shown much-needed leadership, resourcefulness and public-mindedness in the face of serious challenges. Yet COVID-19 denialism and the undermining of state election law illustrate the fragility of subnational governance norms. Some state legislators and governors recently have pushed the boundaries of their offices. They have also aggressively impeded local authority on a range of topics, from establishing safe and dignified working conditions to protecting city residents from the worst impacts of the pandemic.
We think that legal scholars can helpfully provide light, to accompany the inevitable heat of these topics. Indeed, they have already begun to do so; this blog hopes to give those voices a home. From punitive preemption to the new home rule, local government law scholars have called for re-examining the powers cities have, or may develop. Scholars of judicial federalism have explored the role of state constitutionalism, and its dialogue with the US Constitution and with foundational documents globally. Questions of incorporation, boundary changes, special districts, and taxation, long thought of as dry academic topics, now are understood for their role perpetuating racism and inequality and impeding mobility. Debates over election law and electoral policy have also come to the fore. In our extraordinarily polarized world, we should expect these issues to continue to rage hot.
We hope that here, the contributors to SLoGLaw, as well as guest writers, will foster ongoing dialogue and analysis of a range of state and local issues. We hope these conversations will bring in not only legal scholars, but also those serving in state and local government, advocates working on a range of issues, and scholars from other disciplines. We hope our readers will be those in the academy, and also those who cover the statehouse or city hall beat. There’s a lot to discuss. Here goes.