To the plaintiffs challenging the constitutionality of emergency managers, the state law providing for such municipal oversight violates some basic principles of U.S. law: the First Amendment-guaranteed rights of free speech and the ability to petition the government.
Michigan’s Public Act 436, the law providing for emergency managers, also prevents the due process right for citizens to elect government officials and to enjoy equal protection under the law, according to a lawsuit re-filed in federal court Feb. 12.
“Public Act 436 unconstitutionally strips local voters of their right to a republican form of government by transferring governance, including but not limited to legislative powers, from local elected officials to one unelected emergency manager,” the suit reads. “In each of these communities, citizens will have effectively lost their right to vote for elected officials or had that right diluted so as to render it an exercise in form without substance.”
Originally filed 11 months ago, the suit is proceeding in U.S. District Court in Detroit. Attorneys re-filed the suit after a status conference last week with Judge George Caram Steeh, who ordered the suit could proceed. The plaintiffs removed claims that the EM law violates the right to collective bargaining. The suit does not directly challenge the city of Detroit’s bankruptcy proceedings.
The amended complaint includes 25 plaintiffs, many from the 11 Michigan communities with emergency managers helming municipal government or school districts. Some plaintiffs are members of Detroit’s library commission or school board and the Pontiac, Flint and Benton Harbor city councils. They name Gov. Rick Snyder and former state Treasurer Andy Dillon as defendants.
In part, the suit claims the Michigan Emergency Manager law “establishes a new form of local government, previously unknown within the United States or the State of Michigan, where the people within local municipalities may be governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree.”
Next Chapter Detroit published a previous report about the case and an interview by WDET’s Quinn Klinefelter with one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, John Philo, of the Sugar Law Center.
One of the most provocative points of the suit is that 52 percent of Michigan’s African-American population lives in a city that has had an emergency manager or been under consent decree. WDET’s Detroit Journalism Cooperative partner Bridge Magazine explored this dynamic in a Jan. 22 article.
We’ll follow this dispute as it unfolds in U.S. District Court over the next several months.
-By WDET’s Sandra Svoboda
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