WEARE, N.H. — Near the foot of an unmarked, dead-end dirt road sits a humble, mud-colored farmhouse. A sign on a mailbox jutting from a tilted post spells “SOUTER.”
Some folks want to make that “Hotel Souter.”
People from across the country are getting behind a campaign to seize Supreme Court Justice David Souter’s farmhouse to build a luxury hotel, according to the man who came up with the idea following a Supreme Court decision favoring government seizure of private property.
“We would act just as these cities have been acting in seizing properties. We would give Souter the same sort of deal,” said Logan Darrow Clements, of Los Angeles.
Town Clerk Evelyn Connor has had to return checks from people wishing to donate to a hotel construction fund. A rival proposal from townspeople would turn Souter’s land into a park commemorating the U.S. Constitution.
Souter has declined to comment on the matter, but he has defenders, like Betty Straw, his sixth-grade teacher.
“I think it’s absolutely ridiculous,” she said. “They’re just doing it for spite.”
Souter was one of five justices who sided with the city of New London, Conn., last month in a decision favoring government power to seize private property by eminent domain. The city plans to build a private hotel and convention center, office space and condominiums.
The 65-year-old justice has lived for decades in his family’s home in this central New Hampshire town, about 15 miles from Concord. His 8-acre property is undisturbed by neighbors whose yards are strewn with rusting farm equipment and old pickup trucks.
The house, more than 200 years old, is one of the few remnants of the original East Weare village, which was seized 45 years ago to make way for a dam.
Clements, 36, has never been to Weare, population 8,500, but is a member of the Free State Project, the libertarian movement that chose “Live Free or Die” New Hampshire as its promised land and wants to move 20,000 followers here. The group’s second annual convention started in Lancaster on Saturday.
He knows his hotel plan is hard to take seriously.
“That’s sort of the story of my life: Nobody takes me seriously until I do something,” he said. “We will be taken seriously when we make a formal presentation to the powers that be in Weare,” he said, adding that he is talking to several development consultants.
Clements said his mission, like his long-shot bid for governor of California in 2003, is rooted in his passion for a philosophy of free-will capitalism embodied in Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel, “Atlas Shrugged.”
“We should have a voluntary society where people interact with each other through trade, not through the initiation of force,” Clements said. He got 274 votes.
Connor, the town clerk, said it’s all a little much for a town where the biggest excitement of the year usually is the Weare Patriotic Celebration, which this year featured an American Legion chicken barbecue, carnival rides and a men-versus-women softball game.
“We just got a Dunkin’ Donuts,” she said.
Other town officials agree.
“It was the general consensus that we were not interested in taking anyone’s property,” said Laura Buono, head of Weare’s board of selectmen. She said board members are willing to review any formal proposal Clements submits.
But in a state where people fiercely protect their right to local control over land and government, many said the nuisance is Souter’s just deserts. A recent University of New Hampshire poll reported 93 percent of state residents oppose the taking of private land through eminent domain for private development.
“It’s something you really don’t want to screw with around here,” said Charles Meany, Weare’s code enforcement officer.
He thinks the hotel idea is “ludicrous” and doubts whether Clements will be able to satisfy requirements to prove the economic necessity of building a hotel on Souter’s land.
But Clements has his share of local supporters, including David Archambault, who runs a go-cart track near Souter’s home.
“What this is doing I think is wonderful, because he’s getting a point across to all these people that they’re getting too much power,” Archambault said.
Robin Ilsley, who makes syrup on a family farm about two miles from Souter’s place, thought the justice brought the controversy on himself. “It was a pretty stupid ruling,” she said.
Even her mother, who watched Souter grow up, is unsympathetic.
“I like David very much, but I don’t like his ideas,” said Winnie Ilsley, 77, who runs a doll museum at her farm. “I just don’t think it’s fair,” she said of the New London decision.
And the hotel?
“Let ’em build _ but I don’t think it’s going to happen,” she said.
On the Net:
U.S. Supreme Court: http://www.supremecourtus.gov