96 N.C. L. Rev. 1882 (2018)
Every state in the Union sets up its own framework for relations between the state and local governments. Most states broadly delegate “authority over local matters” to local governments in their state constitution or a single state statute. North Carolina is one of only two states that does not take this approach. The North Carolina Constitution, though, does limit the circumstances under which the General Assembly can pass “local acts,” which alter the powers of one or a small subset of local governments. Two recent decisions of the Supreme Court of North Carolina—City of Asheville v. State and Town of Boone v. State—considered this constitutional limitation and the related theme of competing local and state authority.
Though these two cases involved the same state constitutional provisions and were decided on the same day, the court sided with local authority in one and with state authority in the other. In City of Asheville, the court found for Asheville in a dispute between the city and the General Assembly over ownership of the city’s water system. In Town of Boone, the court approved of—over the town’s objection—a change the legislature made limiting Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. The methodologies the court used to reach these seemingly opposing conclusions are strikingly similar, but the court ultimately came to opposite conclusions after parallel analyses.
This Recent Development explores why the Supreme Court of North Carolina reached seemingly divergent conclusions in these two cases on similar issues. It explains how article VII, section 1 of the North Carolina Constitution—which gives the General Assembly broad authority over local governments—and article II, section 24—which limits how the General Assembly can legislate about local governments—relate to each other and argues that the majority erred in Town of Boone by failing to find that article II, section 24 applied to the law at issue in that case. It further details why the concurring justices in Town of Boone misapplied the section 24(1)(a) test articulated in City of Asheville by failing to properly account for the purpose of extraterritorial jurisdiction and Boone’s specific exercise of it. It suggests that the “material connection” test announced by the City of Asheville court could prove to be a workable solution to the court’s confused jurisprudence on state-local relations, provided that the test is modified to ensure that subject matters historically regulated by the General Assembly are safe from constitutional challenge.