When Parking Meters Were Against the Law


While doing some academic journal digging for my article yesterday on "Petty Law Enforcement vs. the Poor," I came across some very interesting news-to-me (perhaps well known to everyone else) from a 1947 article by Marion Allen Grimes called "The Legality of Parking Meter Ordinances and Permissible Use of Parking Meter Funds", from California Law Review. 

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Turns out that back in the first half of the 20th century, people had enough mistrust of government and respect for the notion of enumerated powers–even on the local level–that lots of people filed legal challenges to the very notion of a municipality's power to install parking meters.

After all, "It is a well-established rule of municipal law that a municipal corporation possesses and can exercise only those powers expressly granted to it, those necessarily or fairly implied in or incident to the powers expressly granted, and those essential to the accomplishment of the declared objects and purposes…."

Most such challenges lost, natch. Courts are, after all, a branch of government.

But not all of them! In some cases discussed in this article, "the court came to the conclusion that the municipality had not been granted the power to regulate traffic by use of parking meters. The ordinance in one jurisdiction was held bad as levying a license fee, such fees being prohibited by state law. Another jurisdiction held that a city which had power to pass a parking meter ordinance had wrongly exercised that power since the measure was for revenue rather than for regulation. Another ordinance was held invalid as being not a proper exercise of the police power, since it violated the rights of an abutting property owner."

A very different nation, worse in many important ways, but that courts could actually accept and rule in favor of people challenging state power to put in parking meters is a neat thing.