Local Control Prevails in Court Decision
In a much anticipated decision, the Arizona Supreme Court recently upheld a vital principle of local control for Arizona cities and towns, especially charter
cities, when it struck down a state law that sought to overrule the way Tucson holds its municipal elections. Pursuant to Tucson's charter, council members
are elected using a partisan system. Additionally, members are nominated in ward-based primary elections but elected in at-large general elections. In 2009
the Legislature passed a law essentially barring Tucson from holding its elections in this manner, overruling its charter. Tucson filed a lawsuit against
the state, seeking to have the preemption overturned.
The state prevailed at the Superior Court but the Arizona Court of Appeals reversed that decision and held that the law conflicted with Tucson's charter.
Since the manner that Tucson selects its council members is one of purely local concern, the court reasoned, the Legislature could not preempt their charter.
The state asked the Supreme Court to hear the case, which it did in December. After listening to the arguments, it was impossible to determine what the Supreme Court
would do. Nearly four months after the oral arguments were held, the Supreme Court issued a decision that strongly upholds the principle of home rule. The court's
opinion contains an informative history of this Constitutional principle, dating back to the Arizona Constitutional Convention of 1910.
One quote from the opinion states: "The purpose of the home rule charter provision of the Constitution was to render the cities adopting such charter provisions as
nearly independent of state legislation as possible." Another quote reiterates the fact that a charter is in essence a local constitution by stating, "A home rule
city deriving its powers from the Constitution is independent of the state Legislature as to all subjects of strictly local municipal concern."
A key portion of the ruling that applies to all cities and towns states that "Nineteenth century case law and legal commentary general viewed cities and towns as
entirely subordinate and dependent on the state's legislature for any governmental authority….the framers of Arizona's Constitution, however, rejected that view,
valuing local autonomy."[emphasis added]
Well worth the wait, the case of City of Tucson v. State of Arizona will be a strong tool for Arizona cities and towns to use at the Legislature when the state attempts
to usurp authority that is best left to the government closest to its citizens.
Open the link below to view the decision:
League of Arizona Cities and Towns
1820 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007