Michigan Citizens Take Emergency Manager Law to Court, Citing Unconstitutional Power Grab


June 22, 2011

Citizens from across Michigan today announced they are taking Michigan’s controversial emergency manager law to court, filing a lawsuit that charges Gov. Rick Snyder and the Legislature with implementing an unconstitutional power grab that effectively silences citizens.

“The emergency manager law is a shameless power grab by Lansing politicians and their cronies who want to take away the will of the people,” said Kym Spring, Grand Rapids plaintiff.  “The only people who benefit from this dangerous law are those who want to wage vendettas against their political enemies so they can pursue their own narrow political agendas, not the needs of the people.  Michigan deserves leaders who can come together to fix our problems.  Instead, we have an unconstitutional law that takes away people’s rights and local decision-making.”

In March 2011, the Legislature approved and Gov. Rick Snyder signed Michigan Public Act 4 (PA-4), a new law that gives the Governor’s office the power to appoint so-called “emergency managers” for any of a broad, vague set of criteria.  These emergency managers can then take over the entire operations of local communities or school districts, replacing elected officials.

Emergency managers have nearly unlimited, unilateral and unchecked authority, from making and changing all local laws to selling off public assets and saddling local taxpayers with debt without their approval to laying off workers and repealing collective bargaining contracts.  Local taxpayers must pay for these emergency managers, ranging from $11,000 a month for the manager in Benton Harbor to around $33,000 a month for the manager of the Detroit Public Schools.

The citizens’ lawsuit, filed against the State of Michigan in Ingham County Circuit Court, says the emergency manager law violates the Michigan Constitution by:

  • Suspending home rule, by giving managers power to repeal local laws, ordinances, charters and contracts
  • Effectively eliminating citizens’ rights to vote for and petition local government on matters of local concern
  • Violating the separation of powers, by allowing the executive branch and its agencies to exercise legislative duties
  • Allowing the Legislature to enact unfunded mandates, by using local taxpayer dollars for such purposes as managers’ salaries and staff

The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice is serving as the lead counsel for the 28 citizens.  Sugar Law is joined by attorneys with the Center for Constitutional Rights, The Sanders Law Firm, Miller Cohen PLC, and Goodman & Hurwitz PC on behalf of the Michigan National Lawyers Guild.

“Lansing politicians, along party lines, rammed through a law that gives politically motivated managers unprecedented powers to silence local communities and citizens,” said Edith Lee-Payne, Detroit plaintiff.  “This law is not about fiscal responsibility.  It’s a power grab that robs taxpayers of their money and freedom.”

“This unfair, unconstitutional and unnecessary law takes away the rights of hardworking people who play by the rules,” said John Philo, Legal Director for the Sugar Law Center.  “PA-4 establishes a new form of local government, unknown anywhere in the United States, where the people in local municipalities are governed by an unelected official who establishes local law by decree.  It’s a backdoor way to end collective bargaining and effectively silence local firefighters, police, teachers, nurses and anyone who serves the public and provides essential local services.”

“At a time when every community is struggling and tightening their belts, what Michigan families need and deserve are real solutions from Lansing, said Tameka Ramsey, Pontiac plaintiff.  “Instead, they now face bagmen from big banks who will end services and cut jobs with zero input from local families.”

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For more information, visit <www.democracyemergency.org>.  Cf. Map of At-Risk Communities.


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