Dillon's Rule Versus Home Rule Which Is Better Research Paper

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Dillon's Rule: Help or Hindrance?

Corruption and financial issues at the local level led to the disenfranchisement of the people and high levels of concern at the state and federal level. Something had to be done to help curb these issues on a grand scale in the United States. This decision gave birth to what is now known as Dillon's Rule, which essentially results in a narrowing of power of governments at the local level. This rule is generally used when trying to decide and interpret whether a local government has any expressed powers in a given situation. This rule is strictly and narrowly defined, and if there is any reasonable doubt at all about whether the authority has been expressly given to a locality through the state, then the authority of that locality in that given situation is not recognized. Every state in the union has some element of Dillon's Rule in its conceptual framework, but many states have implemented different versions of "home rule" initiatives that may allow some of the states' local governments to oversee and manage certain aspects of governance that are not expressly prohibited by the laws of the state. Given the fact that Dillon's Rule was strictly a reaction to corrupt entities of the 1800's this paper attempts to examine whether or not it's still relevant even today or whether it should largely be reformed and/or abolished.


"Article 1 section, section VIII, clause 18, gives Congress the power to make all laws 'necessary and proper' for carrying out the express powers of Congress."

This clause is often referred to as the elastic clause and it reflects how the developers of the constitution understood that it would need to be flexible and adaptable enough to meet the needs of a developing country. This clause helps in making the constitution a living document. One can't help but think of this clause when it comes to certain antiquated forms of legislation appear and cause controversy on contemporary society. One such controversial form of legislation is Dillon's Rule. Restrictions and subsequent consequences of this rule truly beg the following question: Would it be beneficial for some or all states to implement a devolutionary approach to local governments by abolishing Dillon's Rule, or does this dated decree still hold weight in protecting the people from corruption and local government mismanagement?

Dillon's Rule

While the average citizen is no doubt familiar with the notion of political corruption, what might seem slightly more foreign is the idea of municipal governments acting more like corporations. However, the history of Dillon's law is precisely that; it was a time when municipal governments acted more like corporations and corruption was able to thrive.

"As was true of other corporations, municipal governments were also granted charters, called enabling legislation, by the state legislatures. Such legislation could spell out the power of the local government being created and could be terminated by the chartering authority."

Essentially this all meant that local governments could have charters adjusted in fashions that corporations had security against. While some assert that Judge Dillon was one who accepted the "agrarian myth" which orbited around a nostalgic attachment to agrarian living, Dillon was one who truly believed that local units were exclusively controlled by corrupt and duplicitous people and that attempting to regulate these entities was really the best way to minimize the damage that these people were capable of.

Today, when interpreting Dillon's rule, it's absolutely crucial to bear in mind that Judge Dillon sat on the bench during a time when corruption simply ran rampant in urban environments. Dillon had extreme doubt of municipal governments: "According to his interpretation of municipal power, he felt that if there was any doubt about whether a municipality had a certain power, the doubt itself was enough for him to assume that it did not in fact have that power."

Dillon believed that municipal government should have powers that were strictly regulated and should truly only be manifested in three ways: powers explicitly listed in legislation, powers obviously implied, and powers required for the government to do jobs expected of them.

Dillon's rule, in the most basic of terms, refers to the limited authority of local governments. This rule is generally used when trying to decide and interpret whether a local government has any expressed powers in a given situation. This rule is strictly and narrowly defined, and if there is any reasonable doubt at all about whether the authority has been expressly given to a locality through the state, then the authority of that locality in that given situation is not recognized.

The pros and cons of Dillon's Rule are indeed distinct. The clear advantages of Dillon's Rule are that it sets regulation of local government: historically there was tremendous need for this to occur as corruption, bribery, fraud and general sleaze ran rampant. Even today, when political corruption at least appears to be more in check, regulation like Dillon's Rule is still necessary. Dillon's rule ensures that local governments treat their citizens fairly, as well as visitors to the community, and ensure that communities offer livable environments to community members.

However, some have argued that Dillon's law, at least in contemporary society, does more harm than good. Some experts argue that it's just too vague to be implemented with any success. Furthermore, other political scholars and groups argue that this form of legislation creates more controversy and unrest. "Dillon's Rule, by asserting that there are no such things as inherent rights of local self-government, exacerbated an ongoing power struggle between state and local governments."

Dillon's Rule is often blamed for preventing communities from raising revenues or producing new policies.

Home Rule

Historically, Dillon's Rule regards all powers granted to local governments as exactly that, granted but not inherent. Home Rule is largely seen as the solution for the constraints of Dillon's Rule, and is the general practice in 45 out of the 50 states.

Home Rule emerged as a reaction and antidote to the constrictions of Dillon's Rule: "The movement toward municipal home rule began simultaneously with the constriction of municipal governing authority imposed by corporate controlled courts and legislatures following the Civil War. Even before the court elevated "Dillon's Rule" to national status over municipalities, the city of Saint Louis drafted and adopted the first municipal home rule charter in America. Today, there are forty-three states that have provisions either in law or within the body of their Constitutions acknowledging the right of citizens, through their municipal governments, to exercise local decision-making power with the weight of law."

Essentially, three main types of home rule exist and the fact that nearly all of the states in the union have selected some type of home rule definitely speaks to its effectiveness and practicality. Home rule is seen by many as the right of a state to govern itself.

The benefits of home rule are obvious: home rule gives cities a greater amount of autonomy. Citizens are still beholden to state law, but it allows them a greater amount of leeway so that the laws and regulations of unique communities can reflect the unique needs of their people. It gives cities the ability to manage their affairs as they see fit, something that many feel cities should be able to do anyway. For example, Morrow County in Oregon was one county which has recently made the switch to home rule and finds it simply a more practical way to do business. "Hansell was part of the committee that transitioned the county to home rule. The move to appoint, rather than elect, officials, he said, was particularly beneficial. 'It's a much more manageable kind of operation,' he said. 'When you had six or seven elected officials, each one responsible to the public for their operations, you didn't always get everyone working together.' A general consensus within the county, he said, held that electing, say, a county assessor made little sense because that position requires professional expertise, not someone who can win an election."

This remark demonstrates the ability of home rule to essentially take the politics out of things that just aren't political. It allows the mentality of "let's find the right man for the job" to flourish. Others claim that only home rule can correct constitutional infirmities and short-comings.

However, because home rule does perpetuate a greater amount of local government leeway and self-determination, it does allow the potential for corruption to flourish. For instance, in the example above, while Morrow County is using the appointment of officials as a means for taking the politics out over governance, certain moves like that could breed unfairness. While Morrow County seems to be using this freedom for good, other counties could use it to allow nepotism to occur or comparable unfair practices.

Should We Repeal Dillon's Rule?

The future implications of keeping Dillon's Rule are not beneficial to communities. One must bear in mind that "Although Dillon's rule may reflect nineteenth-century governmental…[continue]

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