Washington D.C. - Late last week Food & Water Watch and For Love of Water (FLOW), through local counsel Constitutional Litigation Associates, P.C., filed a “friend of the court” brief in Jacqueline Taylor et al., v. City of Detroit et al., a groundbreaking lawsuit that seeks to prevent water shutoffs in Detroit until the city establishes a customer affordability program. The amici curiae brief supports the class action civil rights lawsuit challenging the City of Detroit officials and the Michigan Governor for their policies related to the city’s shutoff of tens of thousands of residents’ water each year for bill delinquencies. The brief details the historical context of the city’s residential water shutoff campaign, which ramped up in 2013, preceding the city’s declaration of bankruptcy. It demonstrates how the shutting off the water of tens of thousands of customers for years is unconstitutionally arbitrary.
In response, Zach Corrigan, senior staff attorney at Food & Water Watch, issued the following statement:
“We’re proud to join with local allies in support of the landmark lawsuit to challenge water shutoff policies in Detroit, and potentially across the nation. In the midst of a deadly pandemic, city policies kept Detroit residents from washing their hands, flushing their toilets and cleaning their homes. The policies have caused disastrous consequences for the predominantly Black and poor residents of Detroit.
“People have a liberty interest in bodily integrity that is protected by the U.S. Constitution, and this right includes not depriving people of the water that they need for drinking, sanitation and hygiene. It simply makes no sense to say that the Constitution would protect people from gross governmental recklessness resulting in the mass contamination of people’s water with toxic lead, such as in the city of Flint, but not when officials turn a blind eye to the serious health problems in turning residents’ water off altogether.
“People’s right not to be deprived of the water they need for drinking, sanitation and hygiene is deeply rooted in the history and traditions of this nation. It is imbued in case law defining the duties applicable to water utilities and in other contexts, such as the treatment of prisoners. Courts have expressly and repeatedly recognized the importance of ensuring people are not deprived of the water necessary for life and health.”