The New Local

Article — Volume 100, Issue 7

100 Va. L. Rev. 1323
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The smallest level of government in American law was always the local—the city, the school district, the zoning commission, the police department, etc. Yet over the last few decades, this smallest of government levels has been further localized: now, in many fields of law, bodies such as the neighborhood, the individual school, the police beat, and sometimes simply the adjacent residents, are meaningful legal actors. These entities are located underneath local governments and often lack the traditional traits of government units—most prominently, a unitary decision-making body. They have been were legally recognized and empowered through an array of seemingly unrelated judicial, legislative, and administrative acts, adopted on the federal, state, and local levels. Such disparate and uncoordinated moves have created a patchwork of intersecting bodies, rights, and powers. Until now, this new level and form of governing—dubbed by this Article “micro-local”—has escaped detection and analysis. Most troublingly, micro-local reforms have proceeded with no critical appraisal. Most judges, legislators, and commentators embrace decisions that directly or indirectly further localize local government since they adhere to a utopian and simplistic assumption that further localized government is always better—that is, more efficient and more democratic—than traditional local government. This Article replaces this assumption with a more rigorous theoretical framework enabling lawmakers and scholars to appraise whether any given micro-local reform actually promotes economic efficiency and democratic participation. An application of this framework to several examples of the new local, in the fields of education law and land use law, results in unsettling findings. Some of the most consequential and widespread, albeit heretofore unnoticed, recent legal reforms in these areas of law not only fail to promote economic efficiency and democratic participation, but actually defeat these normative values.

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  Volume 100 / Issue 7  

The New Local

By Nadav Shoked
100 Va. L. Rev. 1323

Litigating the Financial Crisis

By David Zaring
100 Va. L. Rev. 1405

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A Rule of Lenity for National Security Surveillance Law

By Orin S. Kerr
100 Va. L. Rev. 1513