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Lawsuit: State's emergency manager law discriminates against black communities

Ken Lund
Flickr Creative Commons HTTP://MICHRAD.IO/1LXRDJM
U.S. courthouse in Detroit, where lawsuit was filed

Michigan's emergency manager law violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and should be struck down, according to a lawsuit recently filed in federal court.

The suit charges that the law, formally known as the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act (Public Act 436), discriminates against majority black communities. 

The lawsuit claims the state unequally applied the emergency manager law to majority black cities and school districts – even when majority-white communities had the same or worse financial problems.

"Since 2013, at one point or another, 56% of the black population of the state of Michigan has lived under emergency management," said Darius Charney of the Center for Constitutional Rights. He is one of the lawyers representing the Michigan public officials and residents challenging the law.

Charney said that compares to just three percent of the white population.

The lawsuit charges that "there is no question that Michigan's emergency manager laws have disproportionately impacted communities composed of African-descended populations," and that state officials "would not have adopted PA 436 had it been likely to apply equally to majority-white communities."

Charney said the law disempowers black communities by subjecting them to the rule of an unelected emergency manager.

"You're basically taking away residents of particular cities ability to elect their government," said Charney.

"For a concrete example of why unaccountable governmental officials can do real damage," Charney said. "You have to look no further than the city of Flint."

In a previous case, the federal courts dismissed all but one challenge to Michigan's emergency manager law, allowing only the race discrimination claim to go forward.

A spokesperson for Governor Rick Snyder, who is a named plaintiff, said he does not comment on litigation.