Stung by Ruling, Man Seeks Justice Souter's Land
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Around the country there's been a backlash against the Supreme Court's ruling on eminent domain. Critics say it unfairly allows local governments to seize private property for commercial development. A property rights advocate is taking his protest to small-town New Hampshire and the home of Justice David Souter. New Hampshire Public Radio's Amy Quinton reports.
AMY QUINTON reporting:
Inside Old Town Hall in Weare, New Hampshire, a small group of residents is gathering to hear Logan Clements' pitch. He runs Freestar Media, which produces TV shows about government abuse. He's come here all the way from LA with an idea, the Lost Liberty Hotel, and he thinks a 200-year-old farmhouse owned by Supreme Court Justice David Souter would be the perfect spot.
Mr. LOGAN CLEMENTS (Freestar Media): We are trying to simply have someone who advocates eminent domain abuse live under the consequences of eminent domain abuse, where people can take your home if they believe that they can benefit society by taking away your home.
QUINTON: Souter was one of five Supreme Court justices who ruled that local governments can take private property for another private development if it is a benefit to the community. In retaliation, Clements wants the town of Weare to seize Souter's home and build a hotel on the site. He says he's gotten more than 6,000 messages of support, and money's coming in from around the country. But not all that support has come from residents of Weare.
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QUINTON: Mike Hyneman(ph) is making his Saturday morning run to the dump. He thinks the idea is just silly.
Mr. MIKE HYNEMAN: I think it's kind of crazy. I don't think it would stay in business too long. It's not the most heavily traveled area. I think it's just someone trying to make a point.
QUINTON: Many residents say they don't think the town could support a hotel, especially on a quiet dirt road where chickens roam. Weare's code enforcement officer, Chip Meany, was the first person in town that Clements contacted about his plan. He says people in Weare are staunch supporters of property rights.
Mr. CHIP MEANY (Code Enforcement Officer): No, I've been told actually by some neighbors that if anybody ever came out here and tried to take their land, that they would just shoot them. And I will not tell you who those people are.
QUINTON: An idea that's no laughing matter in a state whose motto is `Live free or die.' Just before the town hall meeting, a heated argument broke out between town Selectman Joe Fiala, who dislikes the idea, and the chair of the New Hampshire Libertarian Party, John Babiarz, who supports it.
Mr. JOE FIALA (Town Selectman): Why are you angry with Justice Souter then?
Mr. JOHN BABIARZ (Chair, New Hampshire Libertarian Party): I'm not angry at Justice Souter.
Mr. FIALA: Why do you want to take his land?
Mr. BABIARZ: I personally don't want to take his land.
Mr. FIALA: Why are you advocating taking his land?
Mr. BABIARZ: I'm advocating, really, that the decision be reversed.
Mr. FIALA: You're advocating vigilante justice.
QUINTON: Justice Souter won't comment on the plan, and Weare town officials say they won't take any action to purchase his home. But it's not stopping Clements' supporters from moving forward. Weare resident Keith Lacasse formed a committee that's managed to get the 25 signatures required to put the measure on the town ballot this spring. Lacasse says even if it doesn't pass, the publicity can only help the cause of property rights.
Mr. KEITH LACASSE: Frankly, getting attention will get the word out, and probably something legislatively will happen. And that's the ultimate goal really, to protect our rights. I'm hoping that we're successful.
QUINTON: State legislators are already discussing tightening state laws so a government can't take someone's land for private development. If that happens before spring voting, Clements won't build his hotel. For NPR News, I'm Amy Quinton in Concord, New Hampshire.