John Forrest Dillon

Judge John Forrest Dillon had no direct ties to Virginia, but his constitutional analysis provides the underpinning of the power of the state government compared to local governments in the Old Dominion. (Library of Congress)

Judge Dillon has been dead for more than a century – and even in life had no direct ties to Virginia – yet there’s nobody around today who has more importance in the governance of Old Dominion.

And that’s the way the Arlington Chamber of Commerce wants it to stay.

As part of its 2020 package of legislative priorities, the Chamber of Commerce is continuing its belief that the “Dillon Rule” needs to be maintained, and urged members of the General Assembly to do nothing that would lessen it.

The rule gets its name from John Forrest Dillon (1831-1914), who as a federal judge in Iowa expounded the view that, because the U.S. Constitution does not reference local governments, they have no inherent powers that aren’t first granted to them by their state governments.

About a quarter of states – mostly in the South and West – still adhere to that interpretation, concentrating power at the state level. Virginia is among the most extreme; without the authority of the General Assembly, localities only have the limited powers given them in their charters or the state constitution.

The Chamber’s long support of the Dillon Rule largely springs from the idea that the state government provides a check on overzealous local governments. The 2020 legislative package calls on the General Assembly to prohibit localities from the authority to “coerce businesses, of any size, to provide specific wage levels, benefits or working conditions, outside the framework of applicable federal and state labor law.”

The adopted legislative package will be forwarded to Arlington’s seven-member General Assembly delegation. The 2020 session begins in mid-January and is slated to run for 60 days.

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