The townspeople of Nottingham, New Hampshire democratically adopted a *Freedom from Chemical Trespass Ordinance* at town meeting in 2019 to protect freshwater systems and residents from chemical trespass. The ordinance secures rights of ecosystems "to naturally exist, flourish, regenerate, evolve, and be restored" and rights of townspeople to a "climate system capable of sustaining human societies." During the annual town meeting, resident business owner Brent Tweed, the sole actor of G & F Goods LLC, strongly objected to the vote. He based his concerns on how recognizing Rights of Nature would negatively impact his ability to do business.
Within weeks of the law’s adoption, Tweed filed a lawsuit against the Town of Nottingham in an attempt to overturn the popularly adopted Ordinance and have it declared unconstitutional. In his filing, he asserted that the law was violating his claimed corporate constitutional "rights" to do business, even though his business activities were not prohibited within the local law.
Tweed even went so far as to attempt to use a newly ratified state constitutional amendment to claim he had the right to sue the Town for using public funds (taxpayer dollars) to adopt this legally petitioned ordinance, asserting that his rights were impaired or prejudiced as a result of his tax dollars having been used unlawfully. The irony is that the only money the Town spent on the Ordinance was for legal fees in which the Town officials willingly agreed to overturn the law passed by the legislative body, the voters. The voters of Nottingham were completely denied access as a party to the lawsuit by the Rockingham Superior Court and the NH Supreme Court.
Before you assume that means the people of Nottingham were in the wrong, it must be made clear that the rulings from the court broke precedent. The courts arbitrarily decided the people of Nottingham had no standing to defend their own law when their elected officials refused to mount any meaningful defense. So rather than decide between opposing views as is typically a requirement in order for a court to hear a case, the courts ruled where both official parties, the plaintiff (Tweed) and the defendant (the Town of Nottingham) were actually in agreement. The only opposing view to the plaintiff’s arguments was presented in an amicus brief filed by the Nottingham Water Alliance, a grassroots community group that petitioned the Ordinance, they were denied legal standing in the case.
The courts ruled in favor of Tweed (and the Town), deciding that the Town of Nottingham did not have authority to adopt a local law that afforded greater rights and protections for the people and ecosystems of Nottingham. As if the actions of Tweed, the inaction of the Town, and the injustice of the courts aren’t insulting enough, Tweed filed a motion this week, April 13, 2021 seeking reimbursement for his attorney fees.
The irony! A man sues the town to overturn a democratically adopted ordinance and then demands the court make the taxpayers fund his lawsuit against a law that never violated or infringed his personal or business rights in the first place.
We cannot say we live in a democracy or even a representative republic when the people that government is supposed to represent are denied the ability to defend their rights. Instead of sticking our heads in the sand and hoping that someone else will do something about it, it is time to take meaningful action.
Support a state constitutional amendment that recognizes the right of all inhabitants to political decision-making controlled by community members when adopting and enforcing policies or laws that directly impact the wellbeing of that community and increase protections for political, civil, economic, and environmental rights for all inhabitants.
Contact the NH Community Rights Network (NHCRN) at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about what you can do to level the legal playing field between communities, corporations, and the state.
Submitted by Michelle Sanborn, Alexandria NH
President of NH Community Rights Network (www.nhcommunityrights.org)