Posted on December 6, 2011

John Conyers Asks Attorney General to Review Michigan Emergency Manager Law

Simone Landon, Huffington Post, December 2, 2011

As Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder plans a preliminary state review of Detroit’s finances, a legal challenge to his authority to do such an action may be on the way. Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), who represents Detroit, has sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking the Justice Department for an immediate review of Michigan’s emergency manager law.

A 30-day preliminary financial review is the first step toward a state appointment of an emergency manager for Detroit–an outcome Snyder has said he would like to avoid and members of Detroits’ City Council and Mayor Dave Bing have vehemently opposed. At a last-minute press conference called Thursday, Bing and City Council members, along with labor, religious and business leaders, announced their opposition to a preliminary review.


A version of the emergency manager law has been on the books in Michigan since 1988, but Public Act 4, passed by the majority Republican legislature and signed by Snyder in March, grants further-reaching powers to the governor and appointees. Under the law, Michigan’s governor can appoint an emergency manager for any community or school district the state considers to be in a “financial emergency.” The conditions of financial emergency are left loosely defined.

Emergency managers have broad powers, including the ability to unilaterally dismiss elected officials, dissolve municipal governments, break collective bargaining agreements and sell public assets.

{snip} Conyers first spoke against the law when it passed the Michigan House in March.

“I do not often comment on the activities of the Michigan Legislature, but House Bill 4214 stands out as an unconstitutional swipe at minority communities and hardworking public workers,” he wrote in a March 27 Free Press op-ed. {snip}

In his Thursday letter, Conyers invoked the contract clause of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states from “impairing the obligation of contracts.”

He also said the appointment of emergency managers “would appear to violate the Voting Rights Act.”

“While the law itself may be facially neutral, it would seem that it is being applied in a discriminatory fashion, as the impacted jurisdictions have very high proportions of African Americans and other minorities,” Conyers wrote.

Emergency managers are currently in place in four Michigan municipalities: Benton Harbor, Pontiac, Ecorse and now Flint, as well as the Detroit Public Schools district. They’ve been appointed previously in Hamtramck and Highland Park, among other municipalities.