Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy

54 Pages Posted: 28 Jul 2015 Last revised: 7 May 2016

See all articles by Melissa B. Jacoby

Melissa B. Jacoby

University of North Carolina School of Law

Date Written: May 6, 2016


This article tests the premise of limited federal court involvement in municipal bankruptcy cases against the real world of Detroit’s restructuring. The study is based on listening to digital audio recordings of court hearings and status conferences throughout the case in nearly real time, coupled with other primary source materials. Under the right conditions, we learn, a federal court can formally honor the explicit restrictions in the Bankruptcy Code while functionally exercising significant influence throughout a chapter 9 case. Some of the channels of influence operate beyond public view, including confidential mediation overseen by a powerful chief district judge and the court's feasibility team that, according to witness testimony, collaborated quite extensively with city officials. These tools form what I call the Detroit Blueprint – a procedural precedent sure to affect other municipal restructurings more than the (limited) substantive doctrine the case generated.

Keywords: Municipal bankruptcy, chapter 9, federalism, federal courts, judges, local government, judicial behavior

JEL Classification: H70, H74, J45

Suggested Citation

Jacoby, Melissa B., Federalism Form and Function in the Detroit Bankruptcy (May 6, 2016). 33 Yale Journal on Regulation 55 (2016), UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2635767, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2635767

Melissa B. Jacoby (Contact Author)

University of North Carolina School of Law ( email )

Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, 160 Ridge Road
CB #3380
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3380
United States

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