Law That Led to Poisoned Flint Water Racially Discriminatory, Civil Rights Attorneys Say

Groups Challenge “Emergency Manager” Law

July 24, 2018, Detroit, MI –
Today, civil rights attorneys urged a federal court to allow a lawsuit challenging Michigan’s controversial Emergency Manager Law as racially discriminatory to proceed. The law, which allows the state to replace elected municipal officials with unelected “emergency managers” has been imposed overwhelmingly in majority-Black cities and school districts, which, civil rights attorneys say, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

“Michigan’s emergency manager statute was born from racial politics and has thrived on exploiting the racial divisions in our state. The toxic impacts of suspending voting rights in predominately African-American communities and imposing emergency managers in place of elected officials will be felt for decades to come. The statute is racist at its core and cannot stand in a society that values democracy,” said John Philo, Executive Director of the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice.

Public Act 436 allows the state to replace locally-elected mayors, city and town councils, and school boards in so-called “financially distressed” municipalities and school districts with unelected emergency managers. Emergency managers have been imposed almost exclusively upon low-income communities of color throughout the state. Fifty percent of Michigan’s Black residents have been placed under emergency manager rule, compared to only two percent of the state’s white population. Emergency managers were directly responsible for poisoning the city of Flint’s water supply, after switching the source to the contaminated Flint River.

“The racial contours of Michigan’s emergency manager law are undeniable: this law has been used to deprive the majority of Black voters in Michigan of their right to democratically-elected government. Those communities have also borne the devastating costs of the law, including the health effects of the Flint water crisis, which will affect many people for the rest of their lives,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Senior Staff Attorney Darius Charney. “When a law so clearly harms a particular racial group, it is not only toxic, it is unconstitutional and must be struck down.”

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. The court previously allowed claims that the law is racially discriminatory, and therefore violates the Equal Protection Clause, to proceed. This is Michigan’s second attempt to dismiss the claim.

A previous version of the law, enacted in 2011, was repealed in a statewide voter referendum in 2012. One month later, the lame duck Michigan legislature enacted the new law challenged today. The case in court today, Bellant v. Snyder, follows an earlier case, Brown v. Snyder,  that challenged Michigan’s previous emergency manager law. That case was rendered moot when the law was repealed. The case is being litigated by the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice, the National Lawyers Guild, Sanders Law Firm, Constitutional Litigation Associates, and the Center for Constitutional Rights.

For more information, visit CCR’s case page.

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


Last modified 

July 25, 2018