Not So Happy Anniversary

          In his blog www.nationaleminentdomain.com Alan Ackerman of Detroit reminds us that a quarter of a century has gone by since the Michigan Supreme Court’s infamous Poletown decision in which a divided court approved the condemnation of an entire unoffending neighborhood — hundreds of homes, businesses, churches and a major hospital — in order to raze it to the ground and turn over the land to General Motors for the construction of a new Cadillac plant. Much has been written about that moral, economic and doctrinal disaster, so we won’t get into all that here. Suffice it to say that in 2004, the Michigan Supreme Court recognized the error of the Poletown decision, came to its senses and overruled it. See  County of Wayne v. Hathcock, 684 N.W.2d 765 (2004). It was too late to bring justice to the displaced Poletwon residents, but nonetheless it was a blow in the cause of common sense and fairness in the law.

          By a remarkable coincidence, this is also the time when General Motors has been appearaing before Congress, rattling a tin cup, and pleading for an umpteen billion dollar federal bailout. As of this writing, Congress has not yet spoken formally, but the straws in the wind, at least as reported by the press, suggest that Uncle Sam will probably pop for that bailout, to the tune of a score or two billion dollars, and keep the once Big Three automobile makers going, at least for a while.

         The pitch of the automakers is that their cars aren’t selling and they are in dire straits, facing huge layoffs and imminent bankruptcy if Unce Sam doesn’t pony up. It’s a sad spectacle, but one can’t help to note that it may also be a case of divine retribution. For in 1981, GM performed another song and dance, asserting that it had to have a new Cadillac plant, and if Detroit didn’t come across with a suitable site for it, GM would pick up its marbles and build the new Cadillac plant somewhere else, in Ohio perhaps, so Detroit (then racked by high unemployment) responded to that crude application of pressure, and did GM’s bidding.

         Now, 25 years later, it turns out that in the long run it was for naught. GM had originally forecast a new facility with 6000 jobs, but it never came close to that number. New plant and all, GM has lost a fortune in recent years, and is at the end of its rope. It turns out that all that injustice inflicted en masse on the inhabitants of Poletown, and all the intellectually dishonest distortion of legal doctrine, on which the Poletown case was based, accomplished nothing — either for GM or for Detroit which has been continuously declining, with its population leaving the city in droves.

          There is a moral in this tale and we have every confidence in our readers’ ability to discern it. Think of the Fifth Amendment and Eighth Commandment, and reflect on what a bad idea it is to violate them.

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