I've been amazed at the lack of analysis over Michigan Governor Rick Snyder's policy of economic martial law. Here's the first and only look at it's constitutionality that I've run across:
Slate: Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan, according to his critics, is not merely misguided. He is un-American. Snyder's plan to take over financially troubled cities and appoint unelected "emergency managers" to run them "is the same kind of flagrantly undemocratic 'emergency rule' used by military dictators," wrote a blogger on DailyKos. Rachel Maddow warned her viewers that if Snyder has his way, popular sovereignty at the local level will come to an end: Doesn't matter who you voted for in Michigan. Doesn't matter who you elected. Your elected local government can be dismissed at will. The emergency person sent in by the Rick Snyder administration could recommend that a school district be absorbed into another school district. That emergency person is also granted power specifically to disincorporate or dissolve entire city governments.
These critics may have a political point. But they have no legal argument.
There is no constitutional right to local self-government in the United States. In 1907, the Supreme Court decided, in Hunter v. Pittsburgh, that under the Constitution local governments are nothing more than "convenient agencies for exercising … such powers as may be entrusted to them" by the state. As a result, "the state may modify or withdraw all such power, may take without compensation such property, hold it for itself, or vest it with other agencies, expand or contract the territorial area, unite the whole or part of it with another municipality, repeal the charter and destroy the corporation … with or without the consent of the citizens, or even against their protest."
In other words, how local government is organized is up to state law, and the remedy to amend these state laws is the political process. As William Rehnquist wrote in the 1978 case Holt Civic Club v. Tuscaloosa, which upheld Alabama's decision to give cities extraterritorial jurisdiction over nearby settlements, the "authority to make those judgments resides in the state legislature." Citizens who dislike the existing arrangement, he wrote, "are free to urge their proposals to that body. "As far as the Constitution is concerned, a state could dissolve all of its local governments and run everything from the state capital.
(Before) Snyder's "Local Government and School District Fiscal Accountability Act," … Michigan has declared seven local financial emergencies since 1990.
So the new law isn't a radically new or unprecedented affront to local democracy. This doesn't mean that the new law is justified. It just goes to show that there's nothing un-American about a good old-fashioned power grab. And the only remedy the Constitution provides for that is for citizens to voice their disapproval of state leadership at the ballot box in the next election.
Like I've written in the title, it could only be the conservative authoritarian that would exploit the state governments ability to rule over all. As much as I've followed politics these many years, this statewide takeover never once even occurred to me, a big government liberal.