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State Preemption of Local Government: The Philadelphia Story

August 2019

Citation: ELR 10772

Author: Richie Feder and Lewis Rosman

We are practitioners for the City of Philadelphia with extensive experience in cases and analysis regarding the extent to which the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has, or has not, preempted local regulation in various subjects of concern to the City. As City attorneys, our perspective is based in our role as advocates for the preservation and defense of the City’s exercise of its home rule powers. In considering the city-state relationship, many of the practical, political and cultural issues addressed in Prof. Richard C. Schragger’s article, The Attack on American Cities, resonate with us. In a number of instances, the city has seemingly been under “attack” from outside forces that appear mistrustful and hostile to the city’s exercise of its regulatory authority. Because we are the quintessential “big city” in a state with an otherwise very large suburban and rural population, the commonly cited historical tension between urban life and non-urban interests has played out in ways that we recognize in Schragger’s description of the national experience. We are not wholly convinced, however, that state law preemption that impacts the city’s powers is the outcome of a particular hostility to urban interests in general as much as it is the outcome of the ability of “special interests,” often corporate but also often “interest-group” or culturally based, to exert outsized influence on the state legislature. 

Richie Feder is Chief Deputy City Solicitor for Legislation, City of Philadelphia Law Department. Lewis Rosman is Senior Attorney in the Legislation Unit, City of Philadelphia Law Department.

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