Friday, April 22, 2016

Michigan Lawsuit Shows U.S. Voters May Not Technically Have the Right to Elect Their Mayors - CityLab

Michigan Lawsuit Shows U.S. Voters May Not Technically Have the Right to Elect Their Mayors - CityLab

"Public Act 436 seeks to put local governments on better financial footing. It does this by appointing an [emergency manager] in jurisdictions where the Governor and State Treasurer have determined that the local government was experiencing a financial emergency. The Act does not take away a fundamental right to vote, because such a right has never been recognized by the courts."


So said Federal District Court Judge George Steeh, in an order that is on appeal.

Most Americans view the right to vote as fundamental, as they understand that word. And they believe that self-government at the local level is a fundamental right that is at the core of popular sovereignty. But most Americans don't understand the constitution very well.  Listen to the utter nonsense that comes from "sovereign citizens," militia goons, property rights extremists, gun rights absolutists, Cliven Bundy, and a host of other fanatics, who come up with their own bizarre interpretations of a constitution that they don't remotely understand. For them, it means whatever makes them feel good.

The word "fundamental" has special meaning in the context of civil liberties jurisprudence. Some liberties and rights are viewed as being essential to constitutional governance, and laws that infringe on those liberties and rights are viewed with "strict scrutiny" by the courts.  When it comes to the right to vote, what is the scope of that right, and how "fundamental" is it?  In the context of the emergency manager law, is the right to vote merely the right to trot off to the polls and vote for people of your choice, or does the right to vote require that the people you vote for have the power to govern your community?  Because people in cities that had been taken over by governor-appointed emergency managers could still vote for city officials. It's just that the municipal officials they voted for no longer had any power to govern.

Related to this is Dillon's Rule, which is the old doctrine saying that local governments are just creatures of state law and state constitutions, with no constitutional right to exist except insofar as state law permits. Home rule statutes were a response to this principle, but ultimately those are just state laws, too, by which states delegate sovereignty to cities. That means state laws can take it away again.

To me, the right to vote is fundamental, and it should include the right to local self-determination. Operationalizing that can involve a lot of detailed issues, of course. But I don't like this emergency manager system, and I think the racism that underlies it is obvious. As the article explains, quoting a legal brief, there is a scoring system to determine whether to appoint an EM, and:  "...six out of seven communities (85%) with a majority population of racial and ethnic minorities received [emergency managers] when they had scores of 7. At the same time, none of the twelve communities (0%) with a majority white population received an EM despite having scores of 7 or higher."  

1 comment:

Deborah Goonan said...

“Flint is a powerful, concrete reason for why the right to elect local officials matters,” says Charney. “When people are unaccountable to the people they are ruling over, they can make terrible decisions that can hurt people’s lives and their welfare, which undermines democracy. "

Exactly the same argument can be made of CIDs -- Isn't putting a developer in control of a community for years doing exactly the same thing? Residents don't get to vote for their leaders, and they are unaccountable, and oftern hurt other people. What about tenants, who generally get no voting rights in HOAs or COAs, even if they are paying assessments directly or indirectly (through the rent check to the owner/landlord), and even though they still have to follow all the same rules and any owner.

And then there's the voting fraud and dirty tricks played by the ones who don't want to give up power, as in South FL and the state of Nevada.