Eminent Domain: The Despotic Power

The Michigan Supreme Court rules that Detroit's 1981 eminent domain seizures of Poletown homes for a General Motors plant was not legal.
August 9, 2004, 7am PDT | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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Though Friday's decision comes nearly a quarter-century after an earlier Michigan Supreme Court cleared the way for Detroit to condemn the homes, churches, schools and hospitals of Poletown on behalf of a Cadillac plant, it's hard to overstate the significance of this reversal. By expanding the justifications for eminent domain seizures to include "economic development," the earlier decision not only ushered in the destruction of a neighborhood. It set a woeful precedent that continues to embolden unseemly coalitions of private developers and tax-hungry municipalities using government powers to take other people's land.

The court's lead opinion reads: "Poletown's 'economic benefit' rationale would validate practically any exercise of the power of eminent domain on behalf of a private entity. After all, if one's ownership of private property is forever subject to the government's determination that another private party would put one's land to better use, then the ownership of real property is perpetually threatened by the expansion plans of any large discount retailer, 'megastore,' or the like."

[Editor's note: This article will be available to non-subscribers of the Online Journal for up to seven days.]

Thanks to PreservingtheAmericanDream

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Published on Tuesday, August 3, 2004 in Wall St. Journal
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