Viewpoint: Supreme Court's ruling turns on elite jurists

There may be some justice in the world after all. The U.S. Supreme Court recently voted 5-4 to allow the use of eminent domain to take your house and give it to a private developer for a commercial purpose. Your loss, his gain.

Associate Justice David Souter was one of the five members of the court to vote in favor of this confiscatory method.

Souter, we are told by World Net, lives in a $100,000 farmhouse in Weare, N.H., a town of some 8,400 souls.

Here’s the delicious part: New Hampshire’s state motto is “Live Free or Die.” A California developer, Logan Clements, is in hearty agreement with that statement and holds a strong belief in private property rights. Clements has asked the town fathers of Weare to invoke the new eminent domain ruling to seize Souter’s property, so he can build a hotel on the site.

He wants to call it “The Lost Liberty Hotel,” and Clements says it would generate much more tax revenue for the town than the $2,895 Souter paid on the property in 2004. The tax figure was published in an editorial in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

As reported by, Clements stated: “Although this property is owned by an individual, David H. Souter, a recent Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, clears the way for this land to be taken by the government of Weare through eminent domain and given to my LLC for the purpose of building a hotel.

“The justification for such an eminent domain action is that our hotel will better serve the public interest as it will bring in economic development and higher tax revenue to Weare.”

Clements said the proposed hotel will include the “Just Desserts Café” and a museum with a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Each guest will get a copy of Ayn Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged.

Writing on the Web site of his company, Freestar Media, LLC, Clements declared: “This is not a prank. The Town of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take the land from Mr. Souter, we can begin our hotel development.”

Clements’ first hurdle will be to raise adequate capital from affluent investors. After that, plans can be produced for the building. World Net Daily reported Clement said the hotel must be built on Souter’s land because it is a unique site “being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.”

On a more serious note, some observers see the recent ruling as a bonanza for big box retailers like Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot and others. These companies have mostly been low profile about their use of eminent domain. Now, they have the backing of the nation’s highest court, which has stretched the definition of “public use” about as far as it can go.

Eminent domain is addressed in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which requires “just compensation” for property taken and that it be taken only for “public use.” That generally is taken to mean things such as roads, bridges, schools, prisons and the like.

CNN said critics of the method believe local governments are too quick to use eminent domain on behalf of large retailers because they see only more tax revenue and more jobs.

Local developers and officials told the Rockford Register Star that use of eminent domain will be a last resort. That’s almost as funny as taking Souter’s house for a hotel. Tell it to Tom Ditzler, or maybe to Doug Scott, “Mr. Quick Take,” just named interim head of the Illinois EPA, which issues developers their environmental permits for various projects.

On a national level, Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consulting firm, told CNN: “Even with the Supreme Court’s decision potentially in their favor, smart retailers would rather go into communities wearing a white hat rather than a black one. I think companies have learned a few lessons from Wal-Mart’s public relations struggles.”

Burt Flickinger, a consultant for Strategic Resources Group, told the network: “Wal-Mart and Target have both been criticized for their eminent domain use. Target has used eminent domain in some cases because it made the stupid mistake of not relocating its bankrupt box locations in the late 1990s. As a result, it has fallen behind some of its key competitors in terms of growth.”

Adrian Moore, vice president of Reason Public Policy Institute, a non-profit in Los Angeles, was quoted on From the “It’s crazy to think about replacing existing successful small businesses with other businesses. There are many, many instances where we’ve found that the tax revenue that the local government had hoped to generate did not come to pass.”

Retiring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor issued a blistering dissent to the majority opinion. According to the Post-Gazette, O’Connor wrote: “This is an abdication of our responsibility. States play many important functions in our system of dual sovereignty, but compensating for our refusal to enforce properly the Federal Constitution (and a provision meant to curtail state action) is not among them.”

Hey! Do you think Sunil Puri’s Guilford Road property would be a good spot for a retail development—maybe a big Victoria’s Secret shop?

From the July 13-19, 2005, issue

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