Emergency manager foes win ruling in lawsuit over old law

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — A federal court Friday delivered a harsh review of Michigan’s Republican-controlled Legislature, saying lawmakers appear to ignore the state constitution in giving some laws immediate effect when the votes don’t add up.

In a 2-1 decision, the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said an example of “the farce” was a 2011 bill that created a tougher version of Michigan’s emergency manager law. It allowed the governor to send an appointee into distressed communities and take control of public finances without interference from elected local officials.

The law was killed by voters in the 2012 election, but another version was approved and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder just weeks later.

The appeals court ordered a judge to take another look at a lawsuit filed by Pontiac city retirees whose benefits were reduced by emergency manager Lou Schimmel before the law, known as Public Act 4, was repealed.

The court wants U.S. District Judge Lawrence Zatkoff to consider two issues: Was it legal for the law to take immediate effect when it was approved in 2011? And because the law was extinguished in 2012, do any actions taken before then have any real power?

Michigan’s constitution says laws can have immediate effect upon a governor’s signature if two-thirds of lawmakers agree. The emergency manager law fell short of that, yet the Legislature gave it immediate effect.

“Apparently, a two-thirds vote occurs whenever the presiding officer says it occurs — irrespective of the actual vote. ... Apparently, the Michigan Legislature believes the Michigan Constitution can be ignored,” said Judges James Gwin and R. Guy Cole Jr.

In a dissent, Judge Richard Griffin said the issues are best left to a Michigan court, not a federal one. He said the concerns raised by Gwin and Cole weren’t even argued by Pontiac’s retirees.

“Imprudently, my colleagues have departed from our proper judicial role by becoming advocates in their zeal to create controversies that do not exist,” Griffin said.

Michigan’s current emergency manager law allowed the governor to appoint Kevyn Orr as Detroit manager in March. They both agreed the city should file for bankruptcy protection, a step that was taken in July.