State and Local Government Law

In the United States, we are conditioned to think of the national stage as the place where "democracy" takes place and where important choices are made concerning our citizens' general welfare. Within this frame, local government tends to be viewed as having no meaningful role as an instrument of social change. It is regarded as a mere instrumentality or "creature" of the state. This course examines whether local government is effective and/or desirable as a democratic, decentralized forum and as a forum for mediating and addressing social and economic inequality with a particular emphasis on race. The course will begin by addressing the powers of local government: what are their powers; where do their powers come from; and what are the state and federal constraints on their powers? We will examine the problems of local citizenship (who gets to decide who falls within a "political community"?); the conflicts between states and cities, cities and their citizens, central cities and suburbs, and among the suburbs themselves; the role of geographical boundaries in allocating services; and the advantages and disadvantages of regional approaches. The focus of the course is on local government, but we will also discuss state government law which provides an important foundation for understanding the themes of the course. Living wage laws, school desegregation, exclusionary zoning and the increasing prevalence of privatized public spaces are among the examples we may utilize to explore the course themes.
Credits: 2

Type: SEM