Amdt14.S1.4.12 State Control over Local Units of Government

Fourteenth Amendment, Section 1:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

The Fourteenth Amendment does not deprive a state of the power to determine what duties may be performed by local officers, and whether they shall be appointed or popularly elected. 1 Nor does a statute requiring cities to indemnify owners of property damaged by mobs or during riots result in an unconstitutional deprivation of the property, even when the city could not have prevented the violence. 2 Likewise, a person obtaining a judgment against a municipality for damages resulting from a riot is not deprived of property without due process of law by an act that so limits the municipality’s taxing power as to prevent collection of funds adequate to pay it. As long as the judgment continues as an existing liability, no unconstitutional deprivation is experienced. 3

Local units of government obliged to surrender property to other units newly created out of the territory of the former cannot successfully invoke the Due Process Clause, 4 nor may taxpayers allege any unconstitutional deprivation as a result of changes in their tax burden attendant upon the consolidation of contiguous municipalities. 5 Nor is a statute requiring counties to reimburse cities of the first class but not cities of other classes for rebates allowed for prompt payment of taxes in conflict with the Due Process Clause. 6


  1.  Soliah v. Heskin, 222 U.S. 522 (1912); City of Trenton v. New Jersey, 262 U.S. 182 (1923). The Equal Protection Clause has been used, however, to limit a state’s discretion with regard to certain matters. See Fundamental Interests: The Political Process, infra.
  2.  City of Chicago v. Sturges, 222 U.S. 313 (1911).
  3.  Louisiana ex rel. Folsom v. Mayor of New Orleans, 109 U.S. 285, 289 (1883).
  4.  Michigan ex rel. Kies v. Lowrey, 199 U.S. 233 (1905).
  5.  Hunter v. Pittsburgh, 207 U.S. 161 (1907).
  6.  Stewart v. Kansas City, 239 U.S. 14 (1915).