Irish Home Rule
HOME RULE is the principle or practice of self-government by localities. The U.S. Constitution makes no mention of local jurisdictions, so a state legislature must grant a city or county a charter, or the right to draft its own charter, to create a structure and powers for local government. Into the nineteenth century most American towns and counties functioned in the English tradition of local self-government on most matters, often by establishing municipal corporations empowered to provide public services and regulate local economic matters. As urban populations expanded with immigration and industrial development, many municipal governments found their ability to deliver services such as fire and police protection overwhelming and the process of awarding city contracts (especially in public utilities) increasingly corrupt. State legislatures, many still dominated by rural and agricultural interests, were often unresponsive, and boss-run political machines entered the void in many big cities. Reformers calling for "good government" promoted home rule as one remedy, theorizing that government closest to the people would hold public officials accountable and eliminate corrupt and inefficient politics from the businesslike formation of effective policy. The Missouri Constitution of 1875 included the first state provision of the right of municipalities to draft their own charters, and many states followed suit throughout the Progressive Era. A version of this "home rule movement" for counties gained some momentum in the mid-twentieth century, but only 129 of more than 3,000 counties ever adopted any kind of charter.
The specific character of home rule varies by state. As of 2000, forty-six states allowed some form of home rule for municipalities (the exceptions being Alabama, Hawaii, Nevada, and New Hampshire) and thirty-seven for counties. Thirty-seven states provide for structural home rule, permitting communities to incorporate and create local governments, while thirty-one allow functional home rule, in which city or county governments may exercise power in such areas as public works, social services, and economic development.
Advocates of the expansion of home rule claim that local control makes government more responsive, allows for flexible and innovative approaches to local problems, and relieves state legislatures of parochial issues. Detractors emphasize, however, that few issues are strictly local in nature, especially as the populations of central cities decline and metropolitan areas become more important. Enhanced local autonomy may hinder cooperation among neighboring localities and exacerbate tensions over policies involving overlapping state-local jurisdictions, especially in the areas of taxation and public spending.
The nation's capital is a special case of the home rule question, as the governance of Washington, D.C., sometimes involves conflicts between local and national interests. An elected city council and/or mayor governed Washington for much of the nineteenth century, until Congress took direct control of legislation for the District for a century starting in 1874. The limited home rule charter governing the District since 1974 allows an elected mayor and council to make laws for local affairs but reserves veto powers to Congress, even though citizens of Washington have no voting representative in the national legislature. A constitutional amendment to grant full home rule for the District failed in 1978, reflecting the stalled aspirations of home rule advocates nationwide.
Harris, Charles Wesley. Congress and the Governance of the Nation's Capital: The Conflict of Federal and Local Interests. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 1995.
Krane, Dale, Platon N. Rigos, and Melvin B. Hill Jr. Home Rule in America: A Fifty-State Handbook. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press, 2001.
Home Rule, Irish
The right to local self-government including the powers to regulate for the protection of the public health, safety, morals, and welfare; to license; to tax; and to incur debt.
Home rule involves the authority of a local government to prevent state government intervention with its operations. The extent of its power, however, is subject to limitations prescribed by state constitutions and statutes.
When a municipality or other political subdivision has the power to decide for itself whether to follow a particular course of action without receiving specific approval from state officials, it acts pursuant to such powers. For example, a town exercises its home rule powers when it puts the issue of allowing the sale of alcoholic beverages within its borders on the ballot.
home rule • n. the government of a colony, dependent country, or region by its own citizens.