Court rejects challenge to Michigan's emergency manager law

AP News
Posted: Sep 12, 2016 5:04 PM

DETROIT (AP) — An appeals court on Monday rejected a challenge to Michigan's emergency manager law, saying Gov. Rick Snyder's remedy for distressed communities doesn't violate the constitutional rights of residents.

Emergency managers have exceptional power to run city halls and school districts, while elected officials typically are pushed aside for 18 months or more while finances are fixed. The most significant use of emergency management occurred in Detroit, where Snyder appointed bankruptcy expert Kevyn Orr in 2013.

Another use was in Flint, where emergency managers presided during the disastrous switch to Flint River water, which wasn't treated to reduce corrosion and caused lead to leach into the water supply.

Critics who sued argued that the law violated a variety of rights — free speech, voting, even protections against slavery — especially in cities with large black populations.

The law might not be the "perfect remedy" but it's "rationally related" to turning around local governments, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in a 3-0 decision.

"The emergency manager's powers may be vast, but so are the problems in financially distressed localities, and the elected officials of those localities are most often the ones who ... led the localities into their difficult situations," the court said in upholding a decision by U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh.

Michigan voters in 2012 overturned Snyder's first emergency manager law. But he and fellow Republicans in the Legislature came back with another version just weeks later.

"I'm extremely disappointed" by the court's decision, said Herb Sanders, an attorney who represented people in cities affected by the law. "I think it's a very important issue that has national implications."

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said the court affirmed that state government has a "legitimate purpose in intervening to improve financially stressed municipalities."

In 2014, Steeh said only one part of the lawsuit could go forward, a claim that the law has an illegal, disproportionate impact on minority communities. It was not part of the appeal. Sanders said he likely will continue to pursue it after talking to his legal team.

Schools in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights have emergency managers while a dozen other districts or local governments are under a different type of oversight under the law, known as Public Act 436, according to the Treasury Department's website.


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