Detroit Bankruptcy Decision May Help Overturn Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law

Image from mlive.com

Image from mlive.com

Besides declaring the bankruptcy filing on behalf of the city of Detroit unconstitutional, some very important things happened in the court room of Michigan Judge Rosemarie Aquilina, on July 19, 2013. The first is that she Ordered a copy of her decision sent to the President of the United States. Democracy Tree’s Amy Kerr Hardin reports that the Judge attached a letter to the bottom of her decision which reads in full:

A copy of this order shall be transmitted to President Obama. It is so Ordered.

For Michigan residents who have long questioned the Constitutionality of Michigan’s Emergency Manager law, this is a welcome turn of events. There have already been many legal challenges to both  the current law as well as the prior law (PA 4), all of which have been settled within state, as opposed to federal, courts. Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law gives the Governor the power to remove locally elected officials and place a single, hand-picked representative in place of those officials. Once placed in power, the Emergency Manager has the right to:

  • Break Union Contracts
  • Fire public sector employees
  • Sell public property, including public utilities
  • Enact all types of local laws and ordinances

Additionally the Emergency Manager is not overseen by, or accountable to, anyone except the Governor himself. All of these aspects of the law are in themselves, constitutionally questionable.  Also questionable is the fact that the Snyder administration rewrote and reinstated the law, after the Michigan voters overturned it in a legal election.

In February of 2012, State Representative John Conyers wrote “Our Nation was built upon the fundamental building blocks of voting rights and guarantees of contract and collective bargaining.  Unfortunately, the State of Michigan has chosen to abandon these precious rights in a futile effort to balance our cities’ books.”

Conyers wrote about how the law violates the US Constitution in two ways, in his statement to MI Judiciary Committee during the same month.

“First, it is clear that the law is unconstitutional by virtue of the fact that it violates the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. As the nation’s preeminent authority on constitutional issues involving bankruptcy — UCLA Law Professor Kenneth Klee — has told us “as currently drafted, the [Michigan EM Law] is violative of the Contracts Clause … No prior legislature has had the audacity to legislate the unilateral termination, rejection, or modification of a collective bargaining agreement.”

The fact that Michigan courts have continued to uphold Emergency Management Law when the nations foremost scholar on the United States Constitution has repeatedly stated the law is not constitutional, is no big surprise. Retired Republican State Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth (Betty) Weaver is now writing a 750 page expose of the corrupt Michigan state court system. The title of Weaver’s lengthy novel is “Judicial Deceit; Tyranny and Unnecessary Secrecy at the Michigan Supreme Court”. which she will be exposing the shocking depth of corruption that exists within Michigan’s Republican/Tea Party, and the level to which the party has manipulated and undermined the state’s court system. In their 2012 report on state government, the Center for Public Integrity gave the state of Michigan an F rating, along with only 7 other states in the entire country, South Carolina, Maine, Virginia, Wyoming, South Dakota and Georgia.

The Constitutional questions surrounding Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law (PA 436) don’t end at the Constitutionally guaranteed right to collective bargaining, however. Conyers went on to point out that law infringes upon Federally protected voting rights…

“Nor should anyone be surprised that the Voting Rights Act is implicated “ he wrote “when the Emergency Manager Law is being used to prevent more than half of the African-American voters in the state from having their vote count in local elections.”

It is no small thing that Justice Rosemarie Aqualina Ordered that a copy of her legal opinion be sent to the President himself. In her ruling she cites Article IX, Sec. 24 of the Michigan Constitution, which states:

“The accrued financial benefits of each pension plan and retirement system of the state and it’s political subdivisions shall be a contractual obligation thereof which shall not be diminished or impaired thereby.”

Her ruling, in which she ordered an immediate withdrawal of the bankruptcy filing, also states that in order for a municipal bankruptcy to legally proceed, the public body must voluntary support it. Under Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law the public body has no voice in the matter, only the Emergency Manager and the Governor have power to determine what happens within the city of Detroit.

It is not a common occurrence in the United States where a Circuit Court Judge delivers a copy of an Order directly to the President of the country. It’s indicative of her awareness of a long-standing problem with the MI Emergency Management Law, and a call for the President himself to intervene in what has become a major source of controversy within the state and across the country.

If any part of the Michigan Emergency Management Law should be found unconstitutional, the entire law may be ruled illegal in the United States. The issue is much bigger than the city of Detroit (or Benton Harbor, Flint, Pontiac, Ecorse or any other Michigan city currently under Emergency Management), it is bigger than the right to collective bargaining within the state, it is bigger than the expectation that public sector employers negotiate in good faith, it is bigger even, than the state of Michigan itself. There are several principal elements of the United States Constitution that are at risk, if the Michigan law is allowed to stand without further challenge. How the President responds to the Judges ruling is yet to be seen, but an increasing number of Michigan citizens are urging the Federal Government to step in.