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Federal Court Rules Against Democracy for Detroit

— September 15, 2016

In a unanimous ruling, a U.S. appellate court held Monday that U.S. citizens have no right to elect their governments. By a vote of 3-0 a panel of Sixth Circuit judges ruled against a complaint that challenged Michigan’s emergency manager law on constitutional grounds.

Brought by a group of union officials, municipal officials and pastors, the suit claimed that Michigan’s Public Act 436 violated the rights of assembly, elected government, freedom of speech, collective bargaining, equal protection under the law, and the right to petition the government.

Michigan’s emergency manager law, which will serve as a blueprint for the rest of the country, subverts locally elected governments and establishes a governor-appointed satrap to impose the will of the state’s power elite upon cities. As we have seen in Detroit, where bankruptcy proceedings were used as legal cover for the expropriation of employee pensions and the privatization of public schools as well as the theft of public assets such as the Detroit Institute of Arts and the the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department, large cities left blighted by deindustrialization are seen by those with power as sources of wealth vulnerable to plunder.

“The emergency manager’s powers may be vast, but so are the problems in financially distressed localities,” wrote Judge John M. Rogers, “ and the elected officials of those localities are most often the ones who—through the exercise of their powers—led the localities into their difficult situations.” The anti-democratic implications of this statement are staggering and point to the proprietary attitude taken by the ruling class—including the judiciary—to America’s cities.

First, the rhetorical equivalence between the vastness of an emergency manager’s powers and the vastness of the problems besetting a city like Detroit utterly evades the question of the scope and nature of the emergency manager’s powers—powers which might justly be called dictatorial. Second, the dismissal of electoral democracy with the specious charge that “the elected officials of those localities are most often the ones who . . . led the localities into their difficult situations” boils down to the conclusion that, when the citizens’ vote has negative results, the right to vote can be withdrawn by the state. Leaving aside the actual causes of Detroit’s impoverishment, it is this position, the position that holds democracy can be granted and denied by state and federal authorities, that is most dangerous in the court’s ruling. Because it is in this position that we can see clearly the true, oligarchic nature of our corporate-controlled government.

As if to mock the plaintiffs—and democracy itself—the court said, “Plaintiffs are still provided a vote. PA 436 does not remove local elected officials; it simply vests the powers of the local government in an emergency manager.”

Ominously, the court cited in its opinion a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court case, Rodriguez v. Popular Democratic Party. In that case, the court upheld a procedure whereby political parties could fill vacancies in the Puerto Rico legislature on an interim basis. The court stated that “the right to vote, per se, is not a constitutionally right,” and that the Constitution does not “compel a fixed method of choosing state or local officers or representatives.” It is difficult to imagine an abuse of democracy that such a statement would not countenance.

“I’m extremely disappointed,” said plaintiffs’ attorney Herb Sanders. “I think it’s a very important issue that has national implications.” Sanders is correct. As evidence of the national reach of the emergency-manager strategy for seizing control of a city’s assets, the Obama administration filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case supporting the emergency manager law’s application in the case of the Detroit bankruptcy.

Sources: “US federal court rejects challenge to Michigan emergency manager law” “Appeals court upholds Michigan’s emergency manager law”

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