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Cooperative Localism: Federal-Local Collaboration in an Era of State Sovereignty

77 Pages Posted: 21 May 2007  

Nestor M. Davidson

Fordham University School of Law


Direct relations between the federal government and local governments - what this article calls "cooperative localism" - play a significant and underappreciated role in areas of contemporary policy as disparate as homeland security, law enforcement, disaster response, economic development, social services, immigration, and environmental protection. Despite the ubiquity of this practice, a jurisprudential clash is looming that threatens this important facet of intergovernmental relations. Historically, courts have allowed local governments to invoke federal authority as a source of local autonomy, despite the prevailing view of local governments as powerless instrumentalities of the state. The Supreme Court is increasingly suggesting, however, that state control over local governments is a fundamental aspect of state sovereignty worthy of triggering judicial limits on federal power. When this confrontation comes to a head, limiting federal authority to empower local governments would be a mistake. This article instead proposes a new framework for conceptualizing federal empowerment of local governments that is not only consistent with the Court's contemporary view of federal structure, but in fact advances the goals the Court is seeking to achieve. The core concerns animating the Court's current move to devolve and decentralize power are forcefully served by enhancing the autonomy of local governments in the constitutional structure. In short, the very values of federalism on which the Court has relied to enhance state sovereignty provide a compelling localist grounding for the particular exercise of national power represented by cooperative localism.

Keywords: federalism, cooperative federalism, localism

Suggested Citation

Davidson, Nestor M., Cooperative Localism: Federal-Local Collaboration in an Era of State Sovereignty. Virginia Law Review, Vol. 93, p. 959, 2007; University of Colorado Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-13. Available at SSRN:

Nestor M. Davidson (Contact Author)

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States

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