Worshipers attend services at Immaculate Conception Church in the Poletown community of Detroit, Mich., not long before the church is razed (photo from The Detroit News archives).
Up From Poletown: Hathcock
The Poletown ruling spawned a wave of copycat takings across the
country. But in 2004, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously reversed the
Poletown decision in Wayne County v. Hathcock. Justice Robert P. Young Jr.
wrote, "(W)e must overrule Poletown in order to vindicate our Constitution (and) protect the people’s property rights. ..."
Judges and officeholders often speak eloquently about property
rights, but in recent decades, they have eroded these rights all the same.
Susette Kelo stands near her home in New London, Conn. (photo by Isaac Reese, 2004 © Institute for Justice).
The most direct assault has come from "eminent domain," in which
governments seize private property, pay compensation to the owners and use the
land for various projects. This power was meant for public purposes like roads,
yet it is now used for "economic development" that generates higher tax revenue, but serves primarily private interests.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. New London upheld a
city’s power to transfer the homes of numerous residents to a private developer
planning upscale office space. In a memorable dissent from this ruling, Justice
Sandra Day O’Connor charged: "(T)he government now has license to transfer
property from those with fewer resources to those with more. The Founders cannot have intended this perverse result."
Sadly, the Kelo decision had decades of precedent. In 1981, the Michigan
Supreme Court allowed the city of Detroit to level Detroit’s "Poletown" enclave
and transfer the land to General Motors Corp. By The Detroit News’ count, the
project uprooted some 4,200 residents and razed 1,300 homes, 140 businesses and