August 4, 2016, Cincinnati – Today, civil rights attorneys urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit to reinstate claims that Michigan’s emergency manager law violates the Voting Rights Act, the First Amendment, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses. A lower court had rejected all of those claims, while allowing a separate racial discrimination claim under the Equal Protection Clause to move forward.
“If our federal laws and Constitution are to have any meaning at all, then this law must be overturned,” said Julie Schwarz of the Detroit-based civil rights firm, Goodman-Hurwitz, P.C., co-counsel for the plaintiffs. “There is no place in a democracy for the unilateral appointment of dictators in any of community, especially not those that have historically been most disenfranchised.”
Public Act 436 allows the state to replace locally elected mayors, city councils, and school boards with unelected emergency managers appointed by the governor. Since the passage of this law in 2013, more than 50 percent of Michigan’s Black residents have at one time or another been placed under emergency manager rule, while only 2 percent of the white residents have. It was a state-appointed emergency manager who was responsible for switching Flint’s water supply to the heavily polluted Flint River, resulting in the poisoning of Flint’s population.
“While election season grips the country, democracy has been effectively cancelled for certain communities,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Darius Charney. “The right to vote is meaningless if elected officials can be summarily replaced with unelected and unaccountable individuals. This is the situation for low-income communities of color throughout Michigan.”
Phillips v. Snyder argues that Public Act 436 discriminates on the basis of income and race, deprives thousands of Michigan citizens of their fundamental right to vote, freedom of speech and association, and violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Michigan’s previous emergency manager law, enacted in 2011, was repealed in a statewide voter referendum in 2012. One month later, the outgoing Michigan legislature enacted the new emergency manager law challenged today.
Michigan’s law is unprecedented, the first such measure enacted anywhere in the United States that shifts all legislative and executive power from elected officials to appointed officials. Phillips follows an earlier case, Brown v. Snyder, which challenged the 2011 law. That case was rendered moot when the law was repealed.
For more information on the case, visit CCR’s case page.
The Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, the National Lawyers Guild/Michigan-Detroit Chapter, the ACLU, and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), along with several Michigan civil rights lawyers, filed both cases.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.