Joe Baker: Group pushes to evict Justice Souter

Remember the news item several weeks ago about the California developer who wants to use eminent domain to take the home and property of Supreme Court Justice David Souter for the site of a new hotel? Well, there’s a bit more to the story.

The developer is one of a group of activists who were outraged when the high court upheld the use of eminent domain for economic development. That means the revised law would allow cities and other local governments to take your property and deliver it to a developer to build a project that would yield higher taxes.

The California developer wants Souter’s property to build an inn that he intends to call the “Lost Liberty Hotel.”

The group obtained enough signatures (25) in this small New Hampshire town to put the matter before the voters next March. Last weekend, the group went to Souter’s hometown of Weare (population 8,500) to build support for their position.

Group organizer Logan Darrow Clements told the AP: “This is in the tradition of the Boston Tea Party and the Pine Tree Riot.” He referred to a riot in the winter of 1771-72 when settlers in Weare beat up the king’s officials who tried to fine them for logging white pines without approval. “All we’re trying to do,” Clements said, “is put an end to eminent domain abuse.” They intend to do that, he said, by “having those who advocate or facilitate it live under it, so they understand why it needs to end.”

Souter was one of the high court members voting to allow eminent domain to be used for the benefit of private developers.

Weare’s deputy police chief, Bill Quigley, said if the protestors appear near Souter’s property, they will be advised to remain across the street from the dirt road that leads to the justice’s 200-year-old farmhouse.

“They’re obviously not going to be allowed on Justice Souter’s property,” Quigley said. “There’s no reason for anybody to go down that road unless they live on that road, and we know the residents that live there.”

Souter’s office told the AP that he has no comment on the matter.

The petitions ask if the town should seize Souter’s land for development, if a trust fund should be established to receive donations for legal expenses and whether there should be a second trust fund to accept donations to pay Souter for his property. Voters get their say March 14.

State Rep. Neal Kurk, who is a resident of Weare, is sponsoring two bills dealing with eminent domain legislation in New Hampshire. He said he expects the group’s objective to be defeated by a large margin.

“Most people see this as an act of revenge and an improper attack on the judicial system,” Kurk said. “You don’t go after a judge personally because you disagree with his judgments.”

From the Jan. 25-31, 2006, issue

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