By Beverley Wang
Monday, July 25, 2005
WEARE, N.H., July 24 -- Near the foot of an unmarked, dead-end dirt road sits a humble, mud-colored farmhouse more than 200 years old. A sign on the mailbox reads "SOUTER."
Some folks want to make that "Hotel Souter."
People from across the country are joining a campaign to seize Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter's farmhouse to build a luxury hotel, according to the man who suggested it after Souter joined the majority that sided with New London, Conn., in a 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. A rival proposal from townspeople would turn Souter's land into a park commemorating the Constitution.
Souter has declined to comment on the matter, but he has defenders, such as Betty Straw, his sixth-grade teacher. "I think it's absolutely ridiculous," she said. "They're just doing it for spite."
Souter, 65, has lived for decades in his family's home on eight acres about 15 miles from Concord. The house is one of few remnants of the original East Weare village, which was seized 45 years ago to make way for a dam.
Clements, 36, said his mission is rooted in his passion for a philosophy of free-will capitalism: "We should have a voluntary society where people interact with each other through trade, not through the initiation of force."
In a state where people fiercely protect their right to local control over land and government, many said the hotel gambit is Souter's just deserts.
Robin Ilsley, who makes syrup on a family farm about two miles from Souter's place, said the justice brought the controversy on himself. "It was a pretty stupid ruling," she said.
Her mother watched Souter grow up but 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 court's "takings" decision.
A recent University of New Hampshire poll found that 93 percent of state residents agree with her.