U.S. Supreme Court Today Delivered Flawed Decision in Kelo v. New London

“Silver lining for Michigan” is the state Supreme Court’s Poletown reversal last year, which protects Michigan citizens from today’s ruling, says Center legal scholar

For Immediate Release
Contact: Chris Bachelder, Director of Communications
Phone: (989) 631-0900

MIDLAND, Mich. — Mackinac Center for Public Policy Senior Legal Analyst Patrick Wright today criticized the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, a pivotal case testing the government’s ability to use eminent domain to transfer private property from one landowner to another. In a 5-4 ruling, the court found against Susette Kelo and other New London, Conn., homeowners who had protested their city government’s attempt to take their homes and turn their property over to private commercial developers.

"This decision ignores the Fifth Amendment’s clear meaning that government taking of private property should be for public — not private — use," said Wright. "Under this decision, nearly all American homeowners who lack protection from abusive takings under their state constitutions or state laws are at risk, since their houses will never generate the tax revenue and economic activity that commercial establishments will."

"Worse, the Supreme Court majority today essentially endorsed the government’s position that public officials can justify takings of private property for the purpose of increasing government tax revenues. If the government can expel people from their homes in order to increase the amount of taxes that other people will be forced to pay, it reverses the proper relationship between the people and the government, where the government serves the people — not the other way around."

For Michiganians, Wright notes, the ill effects of the decision are tempered by a Michigan Supreme Court case last year. "In Wayne County v. Hathcock," Wright observes, "the Michigan Supreme Court overturned its unprincipled 1981 ‘Poletown’ ruling and held that government takings of private property in the state of Michigan must be for a ‘public use,’ which is defined in the commonsense meaning of the term — a road, an airport, a park or other public accommodation.

"The silver lining of the Kelo decision for Michigan’s citizens is that the government’s turning homes over to private businesses in the interest of ‘economic development’ and higher government tax revenues is no longer constitutional in Michigan — even if the U.S. Supreme Court has endorsed it for the rest of the nation."

Wright is a former Michigan Supreme Court commissioner and former clerk for a U.S. district court judge.