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Winter 2023 Course

Local Government Law

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

Any given place in the United States is governed by a diverse, overlapping, and conflicting set of governments, from the federal government and counties to water districts and homeowners’ associations. All of these governments play a role in addressing any given political issue: immigration policy is determined both by municipal housing authorities and the Department of Homeland Security; a school’s curriculum is set as much by a state’s education department as by a local school board. Local government law refers to the principles that determine how these governments are structured and how they interact with one another—particularly when they disagree. Just as a constitutional law course focuses on the constitution of the federal government and a state constitutional law course focuses on the constitutions of state governments, this course focuses on the many other constitutions, charters, organic laws, and governing documents that empower and constrain America’s many other democracies.

When you finish this course, you will not only be able to identify the many different types of government that operate at the local level, but you will also understand the principles that govern the structure of each government, who is allowed to participate in it, what it may do, and what it may not do. You will know where these principles come from—that they’re not natural features of the American landscape, but the product of historically contingent decisions to advance particular values (like centralization or libertarianism) and outcomes (like racial segregation or reducing the effect of property taxes on schools). Most importantly, when you finish this course you will be able to do local government law: apply and challenge these principles to advance your own chosen values and outcomes in the real world.

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