State-Local Relations: Union and Home Rule
Daniel J. Elazar
Constitutional home rule, initiated in 1875, is an idea as American as the proverbial apple pie. 1 It was designed to introduce by contract what the English tradition of government denies in principle, namely, the right to local governmental autonomy. 2 Under English law, all powers not explicitly granted to local government by the states are ultra vires, that is to say, denied them. The American states rejected the ultra vires theory from the first but had to find another to put in its place. They did so through several devices. A number of the original British colonies were founded as federations of local governments. Many of the new states included provisions in their constitutions that required local consent for changes in their boundaries or governmental structures. Still others accepted a new version of ultra vires promulgated by the state courts, later known as "Dillon's Rule" after Judge John Dillon of the Iowa Supreme Court. The rule denied powers to local governments that were not conferred on them by state governments.
Shortly after the Civil War, the state of Missouri was the first to respond to what was becoming the increasingly ironclad grip of Dillon's Rule by changing its fundamental law with the intention of bypassing the rule's restrictions. Since then, thirty-six states have added home rule provisions for counties to their constitutions, a thirty-seventh ( Florida) has adopted home rule by statute, and the world has turned itself over two or three times. The velocity of government on all planes--but particularly on the federal one--has taken a quantum leap forward, and complexity has become the principal feature of our time. In the process, the realities of the local position in the constellation of American governments have changed drastically from the relatively simple conditions of the last century. If home rule remains a desired goal for many, it has become clear