Municipal Police Power in Washington State

24 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2010 Last revised: 16 Sep 2014

See all articles by Hugh D. Spitzer

Hugh D. Spitzer

University of Washington - School of Law

Date Written: April 2, 2000


Local governments in Washington State have enjoyed strong regulatory powers since the state's constitution was adopted in 1889. Those "police powers" initially focused on the protection of public health and safety, but broadened in the early twentieth century to encompass the protection of consumers and employees and the promotion of the general welfare. The Supreme Court of Washington sparingly applied "substantive due process" as a brake on the police power and promptly dropped that doctrine when the U.S. Supreme Court ceased its use in the 1930s. However, the vocabulary of substantive due process lived on in state court opinions defining the inherent nature and scope of the police power. Furthermore, substantive due process has been resurrected as a constitutional doctrine in a narrow group of land use cases-an unnecessary revival given the built-in limits on local regulatory activities.

Keywords: Municipal law, local government law, Washington State, police power

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Spitzer, Hugh D., Municipal Police Power in Washington State (April 2, 2000). Washington Law Review, Vol. 75, No. 2, 2000, Available at SSRN:

Hugh D. Spitzer (Contact Author)

University of Washington - School of Law ( email )

Box 353020
Seattle, WA 98195-3020
United States
206-685-1635 (Phone)


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