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Journal Article

Reclaiming Home Rule

David J. Barron
Harvard Law Review
Vol. 116, No. 8 (Jun., 2003), pp. 2255-2386
DOI: 10.2307/1342767
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1342767
Page Count: 132
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Reclaiming Home Rule
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Abstract

Participants in the debate over suburban sprawl regularly refer to "home rule," by which they mean the autonomy that state law supposedly now confers on cities and suburbs. Opponents of sprawl assert that American local government law protects home rule, which results in socially destructive development because it allows localities to pursue their own selfish ends. Therefore, they seek to reduce home rule and to shift policy power to region- or state-level actors. Defenders of home rule, by contrast, celebrate the recognition of home rule for promoting local freedom and choice. Thus, they are wary of anti-sprawl reform. In this Article, Professor Barron argues that this debate wrongly equates home rule with local legal autonomy and, for this reason, that anti-sprawl reformers are unduly hostile to local power. Professor Barron begins by showing that the late-nineteenth-century urban reformers involved in the first home rule movement did not seek local legal autonomy. Rather, they sought - through competing packages of grants of, and limits on, local power - to enable cities to promote visions of urban governance that the prior legal regime had foreclosed. Drawing on this more complex conception of home rule, Professor Barron then shows that what now passes for home rule is itself a mix of grants of, and limits on, local power. Indeed, he argues, in its current form, home rule does more to frustrate the ability of cities and suburbs to pursue anti-sprawl policies than to protect local autonomy. Professor Barron then sets forth an approach to anti-sprawl reform that seeks to reclaim, rather than reduce, home rule. To that end, he explains how state law now limits the ability of local governments to fight sprawl, partly through constraints inscribed in the very state constitutional provisions that purport to grant home rule and partly through state law's recognition of certain local legal entitlements. Finally, he identifies legal changes that could expand the power of cities and suburbs to address regional problems like sprawl.

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