Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Poletown Decision Overruled

INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE - In a case with nationwide implications to halt the abuse of eminent domain, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed its infamous Poletown decision, which had allowed the condemnation of private property for so-called "economic development." In a unanimous decision July 30, the court decisively rejected the notion that "a private entity's pursuit of profit was a 'public use' for constitutional takings purposes simply because one entity's profit maximization contributed to the health of the general economy."

In the 1981 Poletown decision, the Michigan Supreme Court allowed the City of Detroit to bulldoze an entire neighborhood, complete with more than 1,000 residences, 600 businesses, and numerous churches, in order to give the property to General Motors for an auto plant. That case set the precedent, both in Michigan and across the country, for widespread abuse of the power of eminent domain.

It sent the signal that courts would not interfere, no matter how private the purpose of the taking. But in Hathcock, the Court called Poletown a "radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles."

"We overrule Poletown," the Court wrote, "in order to vindicate our constitution, protect the people's property rights and preserve the legitimacy of the judicial branch as the expositor, not creator, of fundamental law."

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