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Winter 2024 Course

State and Local Government Law

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

Consider the problem that you came to law school to solve. Perhaps it was a family member’s involvement with the criminal legal system. Your fear that climate change will endanger humanity’s future. Widening inequalities on the basis of wealth, race, and gender. A feeling that broken education and immigration systems are failing our children.  

Whatever the problem, the first drafts of any solutions developed in the United States will likely come from state and local governments. Successful state and local programs have inspired successful federal programs like social security, health insurance, and climate-change legislation. And where the Federal Constitution’s rigid limits on governance have been updated only two dozen times since 1787, state constitutions and local charters are continuously reimagined to provide for effective, active governments with jurisdiction over nearly every aspect of domestic life. Collectively, the multitrillion-dollar budgets of states and local governments rival that of the federal government. Yet few state legislatures are constricted by the concept of enumerated powers; rare is the city gridlocked by the equivalent of a Senate. Instead, states and local governments have far more flexibility to pursue any number of ends—for good and for evil.

This short course will introduce you to the enormous range of policies and institutional structures that are possible at the state and local level. It will also introduce you to the legal limits that currently bind those institutions, as well as strategies for overcoming them. You will be challenged to reflect upon what principles are served by existing arrangements and how those principles might be better served with changes.

The course will be graded on the basis of two short papers.