by Richard Schragger, Perre Bowen Professor, Joseph C. Carter Research Professor of Law, University of Virginia School of Law*
Recently, the Tennessee legislature voted to punish the city of Memphis for removing two Confederate statues by striking a $250,000 state appropriation that was to be used for the city’s bicentennial celebration. The mayor and city council, representing the will of the majority-black city, had previously agreed to sell the two city parks in which the monuments stood to avoid a state law preventing the city itself from removing the statues. The new private owner was under no such restriction. Unhappy with Memphis’s legal end-run around state law, the Republican-dominated legislature expressed its displeasure by cutting off funds.
Legislative retaliation against progressive cities is an emerging theme across the United States. Donald Trump has threatened to cut-off federal aid to “sanctuary cities”—those cities that have refused to comply with federal immigration mandates or have resisted cooperating with federal immigration authorities. The Texas legislature has adopted similar legislation that bars local officials from adopting sanctuary policies on pain of criminal and civil penalties and potential removal from office. Other states have simply overridden progressive local laws, preventing cities from mandating local minimum wages, regulating paid sick days, adopting gun regulations, passing LGBT anti-discrimination ordinances, or operating municipal broadband networks. The last half-decade has witnessed an explosion of preemptive state legislation seeking to “rein-in” wayward (often progressive-leaning) cities.