This course surveys the legal environment, political values and policy debates that shape local government in the United States. After completing the course, students will be able to identify many of the key doctrinal principals, and analyze how they apply to the socio-economic context of federalism today. Some of the topics for discussion include: (1) the forms and powers of the various types of local governments (e.g. cities, counties, and special districts); (2) the allocation of power between states and their local governments and the role of local governments in the federal system; (3) the pivotal role of local government in the regulation of private land use; (4) local sources of revenue and limits on borrowing; (5) recent trends in blight, suburbanization, sprawl and redevelopment; and (6) inter-local cooperation and regional governments. The course also will challenge students to explore the tension between the historical movement toward greater local home rule and the modern favor for “smarter growth” and regional solutions. Finally, the course will enable students to exercise and develop skills of particular relevance to local decision-making: statutory interpretation, working effectively in groups, and understanding the dynamics and procedural context of local government proceedings.
This course aspires to empower its students to:
- Recognize and apply several core legal doctrines that enable and constrain the existence of various local government entities.
- Describe how several prominent strains of American political theory have guided the historical development of local government law.
- Apply several constitutional principles and legal standards that regulate local government functions – for example, local taxation and expenditures, land use regulation, education, public safety and the other local services.
- Understand the menagerie local entities and appreciate how alternative forms of governance impact a lawyer’s ethical obligations.
- Explain the predominant funding mechanisms for local government, and analyze how state and local policies can affect the viability of local government.
- Identify several state and federal policies that can impair the sustainability of local government.
- Develop and deliver principled arguments about how socio-economic policy issues relate to legal doctrine, intra-regional wealth, sprawl and alternatives to local government.