A Gleeful Obituary for Poletown Neighborhood Council V. Detroit

By Sandefur, Timothy | Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

A Gleeful Obituary for Poletown Neighborhood Council V. Detroit


Sandefur, Timothy, Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy


The Michigan Supreme Court's decision in Wayne County v. Hathcock, (1) overruling the infamous decision in Poletown Neighborhood Council v. Detroit, (2) represents a major victory for property owners not only in that state, but, indirectly, throughout the United States. The earlier decision greatly broadened the scope of the eminent domain power, enabling government to seize land for the benefit of private corporations such as General Motors, instead of for "public use," as the text of the state constitution required. In the years following Poletown, many state and federal courts embraced a similar theory of the "public use" clause, holding that any use the legislature declared to be a public benefit qualified as a public use. (3) The result has been a rash of condemnations benefiting private parties.

The Hathcock court's decision to overrule Poletown vindicates an important legal principle to protect people from what the founding fathers called "the mischiefs of faction." (4) It sends a clear message to other courts that the abuse of eminent domain must be stopped, and that the government's power to seize property must be limited by effective constitutional restraints. As the United States Supreme Court considers the subject of eminent domain this term, an examination of this most famous of eminent domain cases is especially timely. (5) This article discusses the background and importance of Hathcock, and some of the important matters that must be addressed to further rein in the extreme government power of eminent domain. Part I describes the history of Poletown and its demise. Part II discusses Hathcock and its effect. Part III suggests the next steps that must be taken to restore the public use limitation as an effective brake on the condemnation power.

I. THE STORY OF POLETOWN V. DETROIT

A. The Litigation of Poletown

In the early 1980s, high oil prices, inflation, and government regulation brought on a severe recession, which hit Michigan's automobile manufacturers especially hard. As Americans turned to cheaper and more efficient Japanese imports, the state's unemployment rate rose from 7 percent in March of 1979, to 9.9 percent a year later; 12.2 percent in March, 1981, and peaked at 16.3 percent in November, 1982. (6) The Detroit property tax base fell by $100 million. (7) Government attempts to resolve such problems included major subsidies to domestic businesses both at the state and federal levels. (8) In particular, Michigan sought to relieve the ailing General Motors Corporation. In 1980, GM informed the city of Detroit that it would be willing to construct a new factory in a region of the city known as Poletown (due to the large number of Polish immigrants living there). The company had already threatened to close a factory which would have cost the community 6,000 jobs, and, as Justice James L. Ryan would later note, the city felt severe pressure from GM's "immense political and economic power." (9)

The Poletown neighborhood was "a rare commodity in an urban environment: a stable, integrated area that in many ways harkened back to the close-knit ethnic communities that characterized Detroit's past." (10) The GM project meant condemning over 1,000 properties and the homes of 3,438 people. (11) And although it was deteriorating in the 1980s, many residents cherished their neighborhood, where milkmen still made their rounds, (12) local policemen regularly lunched at Carl Fisher's Famous Bar-B-Q Restaurant, (13) and where, one resident recalled, "[p]eople watched out for one another.... In the suburbs, it's keep up with the Joneses.' Over here, nobody cared. You were neighbors." (14) As Jean Wylie explains in her history of the Poletown case, "even as late as 1980, the community was known for its sound housing stock, its low rents, its good access to shops and services, and its tolerance for divergent ethnic groups and religious denominations. ... [A] study done by the University of Michigan in 1980 suggested that 'this area may be one of the most continuously racially integrated areas in Michigan.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Gleeful Obituary for Poletown Neighborhood Council V. Detroit
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.