The Constitution protects people, private corporations, states, and even branches of the federal government. But does it protect municipalities?
For a long time, the answer was a resounding no. Municipalities were held to be creatures of the state, having no rights beyond those given to them by the state that created them. Constitutionally, this doctrine, exemplified by Hunter v. City of Pittsburgh, meant that when states gave powers to cities, this was a unilateral action, not a contract; if the state wanted to take back the powers, the Contracts Clause did not limit its ability to do so. Similarly, cities had no property rights against their creating states, so the Due Process Clause gave them no protection against state action. In its most expansive form, this doctrine meant that no part of the Constitution granted any rights to municipalities or municipal residents qua residents. Thus, Justice Cardozo, in Williams v. Mayor, could write for the Court that "[a] municipal corporation, created by a state for the better ordering of government, has no privileges or immunities under the Federal Constitution which it may invoke in opposition to the will of its creator."
"Municipal Constitutional Rights: A New Approach,"
Yale Law & Policy Review: Vol. 31
, Article 5.
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/ylpr/vol31/iss2/5