March 15, 2012
Stahl on Local Governments and the "One Person/One Vote" Rule
Local Government, One Person/One Vote, and the Jewish Question on SSRN. Here's the abstract:
This article argues that the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence regarding the application of the 'one person/one vote' rule to local governments, while often considered hopelessly confused, actually contains an internal logic that reflects the ambiguous legacy of the Enlightenment in this country. There are three broad strands within the one person/one vote jurisprudence: the first, beginning with Avery v. Midland County, requires cities to apportion votes based on a 'one person/one vote' principle; the second, exemplified by Ball v. James, permits certain municipalities to apportion votes according to a 'one dollar/one vote' formula; and a third, captured in Holt Civic Club v. City of Tuscaloosa, gives the state plenary power to allocate votes with regard to some local government matters. Although these three strands seem impossible to reconcile, they are all consistent with an Enlightenment jurisprudential project to consolidate the power of the central state by suppressing the ability of entities exercising authority over particular territories, such as local governments, to challenge the state’s hegemony. Each line of cases accomplishes this end by creating an idealized standard for political participation that conceptualizes voters as abstract, homogenous individuals who are divorced from their parochial territorial commitments and thus capable of being acted upon by the state without regard to such commitments.
The article further reveals, however, that the evisceration of territory in these cases is actually an illusion. Under the guise that territory has been rendered immaterial, the courts surreptitiously permit local governments to exercise a substantial degree of territorial control. For example, in the case of City of Eastlake v. Forest City Enterprises, the Court upheld a tiny suburban municipality’s parochial exercise of the zoning power (excluding an affordable housing complex) by invoking the municipality’s subjection to the one person/one vote rule. Because one person/one vote purports to remove territorial affiliations from the political realm, it had the power in East lake to transform a small fragment of a large metropolitan region into 'the people,' a despatialized abstraction that was entitled, by virtue of its ostensible remove from territorial particularity, to exercise the zoning power in its own interest.
I explain the ambiguous use of territory in the jurisprudence by drawing upon the Enlightenment obsession with 'the Jewish question,' or the problem of incorporating territorially-bound subgroups like the Jewish ghetto into a modern nation-state predicated on the idea of a uniform citizenry. The tension between the surface homogenization and the underlying fragmentation of territory in the one person/one vote cases reflects an uneasy compromise between the Enlightenment attempt to incorporate groups such as the Jews into the abstract 'rights of man' and a pragmatic realization that territorial sovereignty is a precondition to securing human rights. This compromise, I argue, has troubling consequences: it enables those with sufficient political or financial power to retreat into insulated enclaves under the aegis of state neutrality, while foreclosing recompense for those excluded from such enclaves by deploying the fiction that they still retain their abstract rights. The article concludes accordingly that the egalitarian promise of the one person/one vote jurisprudence rings hollow.
March 15, 2012 | Permalink
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