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Bennis v. Michigan (94-8729), 517 U.S. 1163 (1996)
Concurrence
[ Thomas ]
Syllabus
Dissent
[ Stevens ]
Concurrence
[ Ginsburg ]
Dissent
[ Kennedy ]
Opinion
[ Rehnquist ]
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No. 94-8729


TINA B. BENNIS, PETITIONER v. MICHIGAN

on writ of certiorari to the supreme court of michigan

[March 4, 1996]

Justice Ginsburg, concurring.

I join the opinion of the Court and highlight features of the case key to my judgment.

The dissenting opinions target a law scarcely resembling Michigan's "red light abatement" prescription, as interpreted by the State's courts. First, it bears emphasis that the car in question belonged to John Bennis as much as it did to Tina Bennis. At all times he had her consent to use the car, just as she had his. See ante, at 7, n. 5 (majority opinion) (noting Michigan Supreme Court's distinction between use of a vehicle without the owner's consent, and use with consent but in a manner to which the owner did not consent). And it is uncontested that Michigan may forfeit the vehicle itself. See id., at 11 (citing Tr. 7, 9). The sole question, then, is whether Tina Bennis is entitled not to the car, but to a portion of the proceeds (if any there be after deduction of police, prosecutorial, and court costs) as a matter of constitutional right.

Second, it was "critical" to the judgment of the Michigan Supreme Court that the nuisance abatement proceeding is an "equitable action." See ante, at 4 (majority opinion) (citing Michigan ex rel. Wayne Cty. Prosecutor v. Bennis, 447 Mich. 719, 742, 527 N. W. 2d 483, 495 (1994)). That means the State's Supreme Court stands ready to police exorbitant applications of the statute. It shows no respect for Michigan's high court to attribute to its members tolerance of, or insensitivity to, inequitable administration of an "equitable action."

Nor is it fair to charge the trial court with "blatant unfairness" in the case at hand. See post, at 14, n. 14, and 16 (Stevens, J., dissenting). That court declined to order a division of sale proceeds, as the trial judge took pains to explain, for two practical reasons: the Bennises have "another automobile," App. 25; and the age and value of the forfeited car (an 11 year old Pontiac purchased by John and Tina Bennis for $600) left "practically nothing" to divide after subtraction of costs. See ante, at 3 (majority opinion) (citing App. 25).

Michigan, in short, has not embarked on an experiment to punish innocent third parties. See post, at 1 (Stevens, J., dissenting). Nor do we condone any such experiment. Michigan has decided to deter Johns from using cars they own (or co own) to contribute to neighborhood blight, and that abatement endeavor hardly warrants this Court's disapprobation.