Property rights — and liberty — were victorious on July 30th when the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously reversed a ruling from two decades ago. The Court’s ruling halts governmental abuse of eminent domain in that state for “economic development.”
In its precedent-setting 1981 Poletown decision, Michigan’s high court allowed the city of Detroit to destroy a community of over 1,000 family homes, 600 businesses and numerous churches—so General Motors could build a factory. In sum, the Court pushed aside property rights for the promise of economic benefits and tax revenues. Institute for Justice attorney Dana Berliner notes, “Poletown was the first major case allowing condemnation of areas in the name of jobs and taxes.”
However, on July 30th, in County of Wayne v. Hathcock, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed the Poletown decision, calling it “a radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles.” This reversal is sure to have positive repercussions across the country; courts from Nevada to Connecticut have used the Poletown decision to uphold the condemnation of land for private parties. Not any more.
Oregon politicians, planners and businesspeople better think again if they believe they can seize private property for some loosely defined “public purpose,” “public use” or “economic development.” Courts and citizens everywhere are awakening from their slumber. That’s good: Property rights are the cornerstone of liberty.
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