Judge Steven Rhodes earning my respect

I didn’t think the day would ever, ever come when I would find myself admiring the federal judge overseeing Detroit’s historic bankruptcy proceedings.


But things do happen, and sometimes you have to be willing to take a step back look at things from another angle. Sometimes you have to be willing to say just maybe you jumped to a conclusion a bit too damned fast. And I’m starting to think this may be one of those times.

Judge Steven Rhodes has been receiving a considerable amount of accolades and praise ever since the day he was first assigned the Detroit bankruptcy case. Most evaluations of the man were that he didn’t take much crap, ran a tight ship, and could be counted on to be fair, sometimes brutally so. That sounded good, but I still wasn’t holding out much hope. To begin with, from my point of view the entire bankruptcy proceeding is illegitimate because it was authorized by Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr, who was appointed by Gov. Rick Snyder in extremely illegitimate fashion via PA 436, which is a repeat of the previous Emergency Manager law PA 4 that was repealed by Michigan’s voters in November 2012.

In other words, PA 436 shouldn’t even exist because it is a virtually identical replica of PA 4 that was repealed by Michigan voters only several weeks prior to when PA 436 was signed into law by Gov. Snyder. And if PA 436 shouldn’t exist then Kevyn Orr shouldn’t exist, at least not as an Emergency Manager. And if Emergency Manger Kevyn Orr is illegitimate then how could he have the power to file for bankruptcy of a city where more than 80 percent of the people voted to repeal the Emergency Manager law?

Strangely enough, Judge Steven Rhodes appeared to be saying the same thing today when he questioned Assistant Attorney General Margaret Nelson about the validity of PA 436. No, seriously. He did. Listen to what he said courtesy of the Detroit News:

During the second day of oral arguments over legal issues surrounding Detroit’s eligibility for bankruptcy, the judge had pointed questions about why the Legislature and Gov. Rick Snyder enacted a new emergency manager law in December following a statewide referendum of Public Act 4 of 2011.

“What’s the point of giving people the power of referendum to reject a statute if the constitution is read to give the Legislature the power to re-enact word-for-word the same statute voters just rejected?” Rhodes asked Assistant Attorney General Margaret Nelson. “What’s the point?”

“That becomes a political issue,” Nelson replied. “Do voters want to keep those legislators in office?”

“Why put the people to that?” Rhodes asked. “The people spoke.”

Nelson told the judge she disagreed with his assessment that the Legislature has made “a mockery” of the referendum process.

“Where is the substance of that right of referendum that the constitution gives the people if the Legislature has the authority to thumb its nose like that?” Rhodes asked Nelson.

“It does beg the question,” Nelson said. “It becomes a matter of political will.”

“The public already expressed its will,” Rhodes replied. “Why do it two, three or an infinite number of times?”

Who knows where this all goes from here. And I’m far from suggesting that Rhodes is ready to rule that Detroit doesn’t qualify for bankruptcy. But I have to admit I like the sound of the guy so far.


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