Camera Lucida

January 2, 2006

Michigan property rights amendment

Filed under: Constitutional law — CL @ 2:11 pm

Michigan lawmakers adopt property rights was published in the Washington Times on December 16, 2005. This article reports on the overwhelming vote in favor of a ballot proposal to adopt a constitutional amendment in Michigan to prevent the use of eminent domain power in aid of private property owners.

A selection: 

“This is a solid constitutional amendment. Michigan has a bad track record of eminent-domain abuse, and the proposed amendment goes a long way toward stopping these practices,” said Scott Bullock, a senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm.

It is true that the 1981 Poletown decision was a bellwether for the principle that the courts will permit a wide-ranging use of the power of eminent domain to assist private developers. But Bullock makes no mention of the 2004 decision of the Michigan Supreme Court in Hathcock, which overturned the Poletown decision.

See also: Mussoff, Adam, “The Death of Poletown: The Future of Eminent Domain and Urban Development after County of Wayne v. Hathcock”, published in the Michigan State Law Review in 2004, and found at SSRN at http://ssrn.com/abstract=775885

In Eminent domain abuse, an op-ed in the Washington Times by Timothy Sandefur, published on February 20, 2005, the author blamed the Poletown decision for a host of other abusive cases:

“The Poletown decision led to an epidemic of eminent domain abuse. In 1999, the city of Merriam, Kan., condemned a Toyota dealership to sell the land to a BMW dealer instead.

“That same year, Bremerton, Wash., condemned 22 homes to resell the land to private developers. In one notorious case, billionaire Donald Trump convinced Atlantic City, N.J., to condemn an elderly widow’s home so he could build a limousine parking lot.”

The cited cases are:

  • Poletown Neighborhood Council v. City of Detroit, 410 Mich 616, 304 N.W.2d 455 (1981) 
  • County of Wayne v. Hathcock, 471 Mich 445, 684 NW2d 765 (2004)
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