Article by: Brett A. Stroud

41 PEPP. L. REV. 587 (2014)

In California, any city may become a charter city by framing a charter and ratifying it by popular vote.  Under the state’s constitution, the ordinances of a charter city supersede conflicting state law concerning “municipal affairs.”  In 2012, the California Supreme Court held that “the wage levels of contract workers constructing locally funded public works are . . . ‘municipal affair[s]’” and thus that the state prevailing wage law could not apply to those contracts.  While the legal impact of the decision remains uncertain,4 the California legislature has taken legislative action to render the holding of Trades Council irrelevant by fiscally coercing charter cities into abiding by the prevailing wage law.  This legislation is now being challenged by a consortium of California charter cities on the grounds that it violates the Municipal Affairs Clause.  This Comment argues that the court in Trades Council reached the right result, but the rationale of the decision was unpersuasive.  The court’s current Municipal Affairs Clause doctrine, which embraces a case-by-case analysis, is unworkable as a matter of judicial review and is at odds with the text, history, and political theory of the clause itself.  The court has a constitutional duty to enforce the state’s constitution as the supreme law of the state, and that duty cannot be faithfully discharged as long as the court’s analysis is governed only by broad generalities that purport to “bring a measure of certainty” to a process characterized nonetheless by “mercurial discretion.”  If the court adopts an interpretation faithful to the state constitution, the result in Trades Council must be considered correct and the recent legislation designed to circumvent the state constitution must be found unconstitutional as well.

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