Justice wants high court to consider EM law

By Ed White
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) — After more than five months, a Michigan Supreme Court justice is growing impatient over the court’s failure to declare whether it will review the state’s controversial emergency-manager law.
Justice Stephen Markman, a Republican, said the public deserves a decision about a law that gives managers extraordinary power to alter union contracts, sell assets and cut spending in poor school districts and local governments.

A manager soon could be sent to Detroit if a review teams finds a financial emergency there.

Opponents filed a lawsuit last year to stop the law.

In August, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder took the rare step of asking the Supreme Court to leapfrog Ingham County court and quickly settle the matter.

The court said it “remains under consideration.”

“It is time that this case no longer ‘remain under consideration’ but be ‘considered and resolved,’” Markman wrote in a little-noticed order dated Friday.

Snyder has used the 2011 law to place managers in Flint, Benton Harbor, Pontiac and Highland Park schools.

Local elected officials are virtually powerless and even can lose their pay.

There is a petition drive to try to put the law up for a statewide referendum in the fall.

If the law violates the state Constitution, “implicating what plaintiffs view as our ‘citizens’ inherent right to vote for local officials,’ it seems imperative to me that all or part of this law be enjoined as soon as possible,” Markman said.

“If, on the other hand, as defendants believe, the act is not only constitutional, but essential in maintaining the ‘financial integrity’ of the state and its localities, it again seems imperative to me that the authority conferred by the act be affirmed as soon as possible,” he said.

Republicans control the court, 4-3. Justices Marilyn Kelly and Michael Cavanagh, both Democrats, are opposed to taking the case away from a lower court and putting it on a fast track at the Supreme Court.

“There are four people who have not made up their minds about what they want to do,” Supreme Court spokeswoman Marcia McBrien said Monday, referring to Chief Justice Robert Young Jr., and justices Brian Zahra, Mary Beth Kelly and Diane Hathaway.

McBrien said the petition drive to force a referendum on the law also could be a factor.

“There is more than one moving part to this. ... The court will take as long as it needs to take. Major issues require lots of careful thought and deliberation,” McBrien said.

Snyder spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher said the governor still wants the court to take the case but “we respect the court’s schedule and their deliberative process.”

John Philo, a lawyer for people suing to strike down the law, said there’s no harm in letting an Ingham County judge first look at the case.

“If the trial court strikes the law, there’s a procedure where the Supreme Court can immediately consider it,” he said. “If the trial court upholds the law, then there’s no harm to the governor.”