THE STRANGE CASE OF ELLIS V. CITY OF GRAND RAPIDS
- by Georges Duverger
- While reading about the Constitution of the United States, I stumbled upon the following case. In 1966, the city of Grand Rapids demanded that a landowner sell his property to a Catholic hospital based on the Preamble of the Constitution.
- Do you know what eminent domain means? I did not.
Eminent domain is an action of the state to seize a citizen's private property … with due monetary compensation, but without the owner's consent. The property is taken either for government use or by delegation to third parties who will devote it to public or civic use or, in some cases, economic development.
- Based on this principle, the court forced Michael E. Ellis to sell his property to a Catholic organization, St. Mary's Hospital. In its decision, the court cited a very well-know piece of law, the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
- The court noted that “the health of the people was in the minds of our forefathers when they wrote the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States” and that:
St. Mary's Hospital is unquestionably an integral part of the available hospital resources of the City. The City definitely has the right to act in the interest of the general public welfare even if this has the incidental and indirect effect of benefiting a religious interest.
- The case: Ellis v. City of Grand Rapids, 257 F. Supp. 564 (W.D. Mich. 1966).
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