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Legal Milestone List

  The Great Ferris Fire
  Berrien County Courthouse
  Elloitt-Larsen Civil Rights Act
  Milliken v. Bradley
  Elk, Oil, and the Environment
  Whisper to Rallying Cry
  Poletown & Eminent Domain
  Prentiss M. Brown
  Otis Milton Smith
  Freedom Road
  President Gerald R. Ford
  Mary Coleman
  Committee of One
  Milo Radulovich
  Striking Racial Covenants
  Murphy's Dissent
  Conveying Michigan
  Ending Jim Crow
  Pond's Defense
  Mount Clemens Pottery
  Emelia Schaub
  Rose of Aberlone
  Protecting the Impaired
  Laughing Whitefish
  The Uninvited Ear
  The King's Grant
  Improving Justice
  One Person—One Vote
  Eva Belles' Vote
  Constitutional Convention
  Ten Hours or No Sawdust
  Access to Public Water
  Augustus Woodward
  Sojourner Truth
  Justice William Fletcher
  Roosevelt-Newett Trial
  Cooley Law Office
  Baseball Reserve Clause
  Ossian Sweet Trial

33. Poletown and Eminent Domain

In an effort to bolster Detroit's crumbling economic base, a working-class neighborhood known as Poletown was demolished to make way for a new General Motors plant. Poletown and Eminent Domain was commemorated on December 2, 2008, at the Polish National Alliance Council in Hamtramck. The plaque will be permanently installed at Zussman Park outside Hamtramck City Hall.

Michigan Bar Journal

UpFront PDF
January 2009

The Verdict of History: Michigan Jurisprudence Through Supreme Court Cases
PDF March 2009

UpFront PDF
November 2008


Complete Text on Milestone Marker

Poletown and Eminent Domain

In an attempt to keep the automobile industry centered in the Motor City, the cities of Detroit and Hamtramck joined forces with General Motors Corporation in 1980 to condemn a working-class neighborhood known as Poletown to make room for a new plant to build Buick, Oldsmobile, and Cadillac products.

While most residents agreed to sell their homes and businesses, not everyone was satisfied with their buyout offers. A small, vocal group of protesters staged sit-ins and demonstrations that attracted national attention. They waged a public relations and legal battle against GM and the two cities, claiming that government could not use its power of eminent domain to transfer property from individuals to private corporations.

In a landmark 5-2 decision in March 1981, the Michigan Supreme Court rebuffed the challenge (Poletown Neighborhood Council v. Detroit), allowing GM to build a state-of-the-art plant employing up to 6,000 workers. It was an important ruling that set a new legal standard expanding the power of eminent domain by allowing the definition of public use to include economic development.

In 2004, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed its Poletown decision (County of Wayne v. Hathcock), ruling that taking property for developing a business or technology park did not constitute a valid public use under the state's Constitution.

Placed by the State Bar of Michigan and the Detroit Metropolitan Bar Association, December 2, 2008.



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