Donald Trump, Emergency Manager Law, Emergency Managers, Flint — September 14, 2016 at 1:41 pm

Trump visits the city most harmed by Emergency Management the same week a federal court declares it constitutional


Donald Trump is making a quick swing through Flint today to do a photo-op and will undoubtedly blame the catastrophic poisoning of the city’s drinking water with the powerful neurotoxin lead on Democrats. This, of course, is patently and provably absurd. The poisoning of Flint is the direct result of decisions made by a parade of Emergency Managers appointed by our Republican governor, Rick Snyder.

Trump’s visit comes the same week as a three-judge federal court panel upheld the constitutionality Public Act 436, Michigan’s anti-democracy Emergency Manager law. The 6th District Court panel was weighing in on one element of a sweeping lawsuit filed in 2013 on behalf of a collection of Michigan residents and the AFSCME Council 25 union. Several other elements were dismissed by U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh in 2014. However, Judge Steeh did allow one part to go through: the claim that PA 436 has a disproportionate impact on African Americans in our state.

The ruling this week has a couple of interesting things to take note of. The first is their contention that the residents of cities with Emergency Managers are not disenfranchised even though they are not able to vote for the decision maker in the local government (the Emergency Manager.) According to the judges, previous case law “[leads] to the conclusion that there is no fundamental right to have local officers exercising governmental functions selected by popular vote.”

I find that to be a shocking statement.

Second, the judges state that PA 436 does NOT violate the Equal Protections Clause of the U.S. Constitution. They consider financial distress in a municipality a legitimate reason for state takeover and, though they concede that it may not be the perfect solution, they found it to be legal:

With regard to the plaintiffs’ claims under the Equal Protection Clause, PA 436 passes rational basis review. The financial conditions of plaintiffs’ localities are the reasons for the appointments of the emergency managers. An entity in a distressed financial state can cause harm to its citizenry and the state in general. Improving the financial situation of a distressed locality undoubtedly is a legitimate legislative purpose, and PA 436, while perhaps not the perfect remedy, is one that is rationally related to that purpose. The emergency manager’s powers may be vast, but so are the problems in financially distressed localities, and the elected officials of those localities are most often the ones who—through the exercise of their powers—led the localities into their difficult situations. A rational relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose is all that is required for a law to pass this low form of scrutiny.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are weighing their options. They can request an en banc hearing of the entire 6th Circuit Court and the case may end up before the U.S. Supreme Court should they decide to pursue it further.

For all of those folks asking “why isn’t this illegal?”, the decision this week is as close as we’ll get to an answer, I’m afraid. At the end of the day, cities and townships are creations of the State and the State has ultimate authority. Unless we change our state constitution to say otherwise or the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the lower courts’ decisions, Emergency Management in Michigan (and elsewhere) is here to stay.

But when you hear Republicans like Trump blaming the plight of Flint on Democrats who led these cities, remember that the greatest catastrophes in this beleaguered city happened during a time when the local leaders had literally no power whatsoever.

  • judyms9

    Never fear. Mighty Mouse Schuette will save the day by prosecuting low level bureaucrats and will leave the high level GOP decision makers unscathed. And in doing so he will deflect attention from his own failure to respond to constituent complaints early on in this debacle.

    As for EM’s, if decision making is to be consolidated and posited in one person, why can’t that person be locally elected from a roster of three profferred by the governor and who submit public resumes?

    And finally, if the Dems running urban areas are so inept, as Trump and the GOP contend, why does the new report on the rise of the median income favor workers in urban areas while there were income losses for rural areas and especially the South, areas managed by the GOP?

    • That last question is a very fine question, indeed.

  • Mark Mudry

    I am not a constitutional lawyer but my studies have been in political science and economics.
    Here is the problem: The US Constitution only empowers the states for local governance (states’ rights). They do not guarantee the existence and power of elected city mayors, commissions, boards, etc. All these local governments exist at the pleasure of the Governor and the legislature. The states are allowed to setup any form of government they choose. Michigan happened to mirror the US federal model.

    That said, the governor and the legislative body could, with a stroke of a pen, dissolve all local elected governments. Gone! The people’s only voice would be with your elected State Rep or Senator. The reason no sane governor would do this is out of pure laziness. Local governments do a lot of work. The Governor would be so overwhelmed with their work that discontent, panic and chaos would rule (get out the torches and pitch forks).
    The system works if resources are available and smart elected people manage the process.

    If there is another opinion on the powers of the states, I could stand corrected and further educated.

    • This is how I understand it, as well. Local municipalities are creations of the state and, to paraphrase something someone’s grumpy old dad once said, “I brought you into this world and, by God, I can take you out again.”

      • Michiganmitch

        “I brought you into this world and, by God, I can take you out” I believe that quote is attributable to one Fred Sanford as directed to son Lamont.

        • LOL. I do believe you’re right!

        • Mark Mudry

          Close, it was Bill Cosby (1983)