Judge Allows Challenge to Michigan's EM Law to Proceed

Feb 10, 2014 at 1:50 pm
(Source: Wikimedia Commons) A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Michigan's emergency manager law can move forward, a judge ruled last week. The Sugar Law Center says U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh's decision to allow the case to move forward clears "a major legal hurdle in the fight to declare Michigan's Emergency Manager Law unconstitutional."

“The right of Michigan voters to choose their leaders is so fundamental that we have to remain [vigilant] and steadfast,” Virginia Romano, executive director of Sugar Law Center, said in a statement Friday.

The court's decision came after the judge overseeing Detroit's bankruptcy case agreed the case could move forward. “The constitution is on our side and we have to believe that, in the end, the rule of law will prevail," Romano said. All lawsuits against the city were stayed when Detroit filed for bankruptcy last summer, but U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes said the Sugar Law Center's suit could proceed, as long as it did not seek the removal of Detroit Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr. "What [Rhodes] did is essentially say, "Look, you can contest the constitutionality of the law for everyone in the state,'" John Philo, legal director for the Sugar Law Center, tells Metro Times. The impact the lawsuit would have on individual emergency managers would take an additional proceeding, he says. The outcome of the case could lead to a number of things, Philo says: A determination that the law is outright constitutional, unconstitutional, or that parts of it are unconstitutional. "It's a positive step forward," he says. "This was the first step, and that law needs to be reviewed as soon as possible." The Sugar Law Center, along with Herb Sanders, the Michigan & Detroit Chapters of the National Lawyers Guild, and the Center for Constitutional Rights, filed the suit against Gov. Rick Snyder and former state treasurer Andy Dillon on March 27 of last year, two days after Public Act 436, the emergency manager law, went into effect. Opponents of the law, titled the "Local Financial Stability and Choice Act," say it virtually mirrors Public Act 4, the emergency manager law voters repealed in 2012. Under PA 436, if the state finds a city is facing a financial emergency, local officials can choose between a consent agreement, emergency manager, neutral mediation with creditors, or a Chapter 9 bankruptcy. Emergency managers have been appointed to oversee the cities of Allen Park, Benton Harbor, Hamtramck and Flint, and the school districts in Detroit, Highland Park and Muskegon Heights. Snyder recently declared financial emergencies exist in Royal Oak Township and Highland Park, which will meet with the treasury department tomorrow on the findings. Highland Park Mayor DeAndre Windom told The Detroit News the city would file an appeal to the determination. “We’ve had three emergency managers here already,” Windom told The News. “That’s not the solution.” The finances of the City of Lincoln Park, as well as the school districts of East Detroit and Ecorse, are also under review by the state's treasury department. Snyder had previously sought to extend the bankruptcy stay of lawsuits against Detroit to include challenges to the Emergency Manager law. "It was blatantly wrong," Philo said in a statement Friday. "A clear stalling tactic for the governor to claim that our constitutional challenge to the Emergency Manager Law put us in the same boat as those who are owed money by Detroit. This ruling means we can continue to seek justice for Michigan voters. We intended to show that democracy and the rule of law trump the will of unelected officials.”