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Federal appeals court upholds Mich. emergency manager law

According to John Philo, Michigan's emergency manager law "violates people's fundamental right to vote."
Steve Carmody
Michigan Radio
People opposed to placing Flint under the control of an emergency manager let their feelings known

A federal appeals court has upheld Michigan’s emergency manager law. As part of the decision, a panel of judges held there is no fundamental right to vote for local government officials.

Opponents of the law say they will appeal the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

A panel of the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals said Michigan’s emergency manager may be imperfect, but it does not violate voting rights in the Constitution, and it does not discriminate based on race.

The judges said the state has an interest in fixing the finances of financially struggling local governments:

“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.”

The panel also said states can decide whether local officials are elected or appointed.

“Equal access to the ballot for an elected official simply does not imply that certain officials must be elected.”

That defies the principles of democratic government, said John Philo of the Sugar Law Center. He’s one of the attorneys who challenged the emergency manager law as a violation of voters’ rights in communities taken over by the state.

“The persons who make laws that we have to obey have to be elected, and if you elect them, they have to have the power of the office to which they were elected,” said Philo. “You can’t have one without the other.”

Philo said opponents of the emergency manager law are pondering their next step. They could ask the panel to reconsider the decision, they could appeal to all the judges on the Sixth Circuit, or they could take their case directly to the U.S. Supreme Court. 

Anna Heaton is Governor Rick Snyder’s press secretary. She says the court found the law is fair and applied equally.

“And so I think the court opinion re-affirms that it is just a process and no one is being singled out here,” she said.

The Sixth Circuit also said Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature acted within their authority when they adopted a new emergency manager law after their initial effort was rejected by voters in a referendum in 2012.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.