Conyers: Michigan Emergency Manager Law Unconstitutional
Washington, DC, February 26, 2012
House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member John Conyers, Jr. (D-Mich.) issued a report finding that Michigan’s emergency manager’s law was unconstitutional, that the emergency managers were not working and had engaged in mismanagement and abuse, and that included a series of recommendations to remedy the legal issues created by the law and to address the underlying causes for the law’s existence. The report was released Tuesday at a Judiciary forum held in Highland Park. Witnesses at the forum included the Emergency Manager for Benton Harbor, preeminent constitutional, voting rights, and bankruptcy legal experts as well as representatives of impacted communities, safety officials, and unions.
“My staff has conducted a comprehensive investigation concerning the law and its implementation and found that the EM Law is clearly unconstitutional because it violates the Contracts Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The law fails the test set forth by the Supreme Court in 1934 in Home Building & Loan Association v. Blaisdell that a state may only ‘substantially’ impair a contract, such as a collective bargaining agreement, where the law serves a demonstrated and legitimate public purpose. Furthermore the means chosen to impair the contract must be ‘reasonable and necessary.’ A financial emergency does not justify giving one unelected official the unfettered power to reject contracts, particularly when other far more reasonable options are available.”
Currently, there are six emergency managers appointed under the Michigan Emergency Law (Benton Harbor, Ecorse, Flint, Pontiac, Detroit Public Schools, Highland Park School District) and a review for an appointment is ongoing with respect to the cities of Detroit, Inkster, and Muskegon Heights. Several lawsuits have been brought challenging the law and its implementation, and a petition drive is pending which would suspend the law subject to a statewide referendum in November. At the same time, other states such as Indiana are considering adopting emergency manager laws similar to Michigan’s statute.
Panelists and Participants in Tuesday’s forum Included U.S. Rep. Hansen Clarke (D-Mich.), U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.), State Rep. Bert Johnson, Detroit Councilwoman JoAnn Watson, Benton Harbor Emergency Manager Joseph Harris, Reverend David Alexander Bullock, AFSCME Council 25 President Al Garrett, Professor Kenneth N. Klee of UCLA School of Law, and Professor Jocelyn Benson of Wayne State University Law School.
In December, Representative Conyers wrote the U.S. Department of Justice to ask the attorney general to review the law’s constitutionality (letter to AG Holder). That same month, Representative Conyers along with Representatives Clarke and Peters, 55 state legislators (9 state senators and 46 state representatives) and 8 Detroit City Council members, wrote a letter requesting a meeting with Governor Snyder to discuss the emergency manager law (letter to Gov. Snyder).