Fate of Michigan Emergency Management Law in Judge’s Hands

The state of Michigan is currently the scene of an intense legal fight over the powers of the state’s emergency management personnel.  Specifically, a law that was passed last year granted certain state-appointed emergency managers, in several of the state’s cities and school districts, wide-ranging powers. These powers included the ability to consolidate or eliminate departments, alter budgets, and even change contracts.  A lawsuit was filed last year in an attempt to block the law.  After a recent hearing, a federal judge will decide whether the law may be implemented or not.

The legal hearing drew a large crowd of approximately 100 union members, activists, and residents, and lasted for more than two hours.  The attorneys fighting against granting the emergency managers such wide ranging powers, speaking on behalf of the nearly two dozen plaintiffs who filed suit to overturn the law, contended that it is a violation of various legal concepts such as due process and federal collective bargaining rights. They also argued that the law was unfairly applied to minority communities.

State attorneys argued that the plaintiff’s attorneys did not adequately demonstrate how the law would violate such key concepts.  In particular, they said that the plaintiffs could not demonstrate that the law would harm the voting rights of minorities or affect the outcomes of elections.

Additionally, attorney Michael Murphy, arguing for the state Attorney General’s office, noted that the state of Michigan is in a unique financial situation, a situation that calls for unique solutions.  The state argues that the law is better than the alternatives that include receivership and bankruptcy.

The legal proceedings were often contentious and highly charged.  Plaintiff’s attorney Herbert Sanders argued that the law disenfranchises minorities and creates a stigma, comparing the law to “a badge of slavery.”