August 21, 2019-
Recently, the Pennsylvania State Legislature undermined the discretion of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. In July language was slipped into the state budget to give the office of Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro powers to circumvent Krasner’s discretion in prosecuting gun laws. Backlash to the state’s actions included an editorial by the Philadelphia Inquirer that argued the state’s tactic undermined Philadelphia’s “sovereignty” to “govern itself.” It was the latest in a long history of state interference in the home rule powers of municipalities. However, the editorial board’s response exposes a broader misconception about the rights of cities in Pennsylvania.
Under current law, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and the rest of the commonwealth’s municipalities, are not sovereign. The Pennsylvania Constitution does not protect municipalities from preemptive laws passed by the state legislature. There is no check on preemption. Home rule powers of local governments are often pointed to to show there is some inherent rights enjoyed by municipalities, but while important, home rule has proven insufficient in protecting local democracy.