Vote NO on Question 2:
Separation of powers is fundamental to our democracy
By Kristin Ross, Grafton County Bar Association President;
signed also by Jason Crance and Barney Brannen
New Hampshire citizens are once again being asked to vote on a constitutional amendment that would seriously undermine the separate relationship between the legislative and judicial branches. Question 2 on the ballot, or CACR 26, seeks to amend the New Hampshire Constitution to allow the legislature to have authority over the administration of the judicial branch.
One of the very first lessons we learn in school is that our government is based on the principle of separation of powers. We were taught that the legislature, executive, and judiciary are three separate and independent branches of government and that there is a checks and balances system which helps to guarantee that no one branch of government holds supreme power over any other. This is a fundamental principle of our democracy.
When election season rolls around we are reminded that the legislative branch, by its very nature, is political – and increasingly politicized as the gap in political ideology has only grown wider in recent years. The judicial branch, however, is not political, nor should it ever be. It is critical that judges enforce our laws without fear of abuse or pressure from special interest groups. It is critical that every citizen have access to justice, not just those who happen to be aligned with the party holding sway over our legislature. This is the very purpose of our checks and balances system and without it we lose a fundamental principal integral to the health of our democracy. The proposed constitutional amendment would give the Legislature primacy among the three branches of government, an outcome the framers of our constitution intentionally and expressly sought to avoid.
Supporters of CACR 26, also known as Constitutional Amendment Concurrent Resolution 26, argue the amendment clarifies the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches. Their description is misleading at best because the relationship needs no clarification. The relationship is already soundly entrenched in the Constitution of the United States and our own New Hampshire State Constitution. It would not “clarify” the relationship between the legislative and judicial branches. It would fundamentally alter that relationship, and that is not an outcome New Hampshire’s citizens (or the citizens of any state) have ever accepted. Our citizens recognize that separation of powers if fundamental and necessary to the functioning of our democracy, which is why similar amendments failed in 2001, 2002, and 2004. In fact, no other state in the nation has done what our New Hampshire legislature wants to do.
Furthermore, from a purely practical prospective, every time there are new legislators in office, new Court rules could be enacted which would be beneficial to the political party in control at the time. Leaving aside the fact that the judiciary would be left powerless to remove the stain of political bias on our system of justice, the uncertainty and confusion that such rule changes would inflict on citizens involved in pending cases, including criminal cases and cases involving divorce and custody of children would further degrade access to justice. Political control of the judiciary is simply not in the public’s best interest.
The Grafton County Bar Association is an organization of attorneys who practice in Grafton County, New Hampshire. We come from different backgrounds, practice different areas of law, and have varying political views. However, we have unanimously agreed that it is in New Hampshire’s best interest to oppose Question 2. The New Hampshire Bar Association and the New Hampshire Association for Justice are also opposed to Question 2. We have very serious concerns about a legislative takeover of our Courts and this proposed assault to our constitutional framework. As leaders in the Grafton County legal community, we are asking you to consider the importance of this amendment and vote “No” on Question 2, CACR 26.
Kristin A. Ross
President, Grafton County Bar Association
Barney L. Brannen
President-Elect, New Hampshire Association for Justice
Jason R. Crance
Grafton County Governor, New Hampshire Bar Association