In 1971, legendary federal judge Damon Keith held that the City of Hamtramck had "intentionally planned and implemented a series of urban renewal projects and other government programs designed to remove a substantial portion of Black citizens from the city, in violation of plaintiffs’ federal statutory and constitutional rights."

The litigation that generated that ruling has had a long life span, and in 2017 the case found its way before the court again when some of Hamtramck’s African American residents filed a motion requesting a court order enforcing a decades-old consent judgment in the case. In their motion, the residents complained that Hamtramck’s current tax assessment practices are purposeful efforts to purge African American homeowners from the city. Specifically, they alleged that homes owned by black families have been assessed at elevated rates multiple times during an assessment cycle, making it unreasonably difficult for homeowners to satisfy resulting tax requirements. 

In February 2017, the ACLU of Michigan filed a friend-of-the-court brief pointing out that historically, taxation has been a convenient tool for placing a special burden on minority populations — particularly when there are efforts to impact a city’s racial demographics. We further argued that the alleged tax assessment practices in Hamtramck, if true, are consistent with a pattern of racial exclusion and discrimination occurring in other regions of the country. The residents’ motion to enforce the consent judgment remains pending. 

(Garrett v. City of Hamtramck; ACLU of Michigan Attorneys Mark Fancher and Michael J. Steinberg.)