Constitutional Law

Laura D. Devine
Civil Litigation Attorney
Boyle Shaughnessy Law
Manchester, NH

No. 2019-0693 (U.S. District Court)
May 20, 2020
Remanded.

  • Certified questions of law from the U.S. District Court, District of New Hampshire regarding the definition of domicile and resident as it relates to college students and temporary residents and whether such temporary residents need to obtain New Hampshire driver’s licenses and register their vehicles in New Hampshire

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Hampshire certified five pending questions of law. The Supreme Court answered Questions 1, 2, 4 and 5 in the affirmative and declined to answer Question 3.

The plaintiffs in this case are two college students who wish to vote New Hampshire while attending college “who do not intend to remain in New Hampshire after graduation” and the New Hampshire Democratic Party. The college students both possess driver’s licenses issued by states other than New Hampshire and neither owned a vehicle. In 2018, both registered to vote in New Hampshire. The plaintiffs sued the New Hampshire Secretary of State and New Hampshire Attorney General challenging under the U.S. Constitution the defendants’ interpretation and implementation of the 2018 amendments to RSA 21:6 and :6-A which changed the definitions of residents and residents so they no longer apply to only to individuals who intend to remain in the New Hampshire for the indefinite future.

The plaintiffs allege that the 2018 amendments burden the right to vote and violate the First, Fourteenth, Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Sixth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, the plaintiffs claim that the 2018 amendments indirectly make voter registration an effective declaration of residency that triggers the obligation to obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license and vehicle registration under motor vehicle code. The college students allege that if they must obtain a New Hampshire driver’s license as a result of having registered to vote here, they will suffer injury. The Democratic Party alleges that the 2018 amendments have harmed it because voters inclined to support its candidates will incur onerous fees to register to vote or will be too intimidated to register to vote at all.

The U.S. District Court subsequently certified five questions to the New Hampshire Supreme Court and noted that interpretation was required because the plaintiffs’ constitutional claims are intertwined with several questions of New Hampshire law upon which it has found no controlling precedent and that the resolution of these questions may be determinative.

The Supreme Court resolved the questions in the affirmative as follows:  First question, the definitions of resident and residence in the 2018 amendments are effectively the same definition as domicile for voting eligibility under RSA 654:1. Second question, a student who claims New Hampshire domicile is necessarily a New Hampshire resident. The Court declined to answer the question as to whether an individual with a New Hampshire domicile for voting purposes can ever be an individual who claims residence in any other state for any purpose. The court noted that the answer this question is not determinative of plaintiffs’ claims and therefore declined to answer. Regarding Questions 4 and 5, the Court noted that the relevant New Hampshire driver’s license statute states upon the “establishment of a bona fide residency in the state”. A person who is a non-resident must obtain New Hampshire driver’s license within 60 days of establishing bona fide residency, or wherein ever they are no longer permitted to drive their motor vehicle without registering it here. However, the term bona fide residency is not defined within the motor vehicle code. The Court continued that bona fide residency means when a person has indicated through all of their actions that New Hampshire is the “most important” place of physical residence, to the exclusion of all other place which they may live. The Court noted that under the motor vehicle code, a non-resident must register her vehicle in New Hampshire, (1) within 60 days of establishing bona fide residency; or (2) when they have a “regular abode” here for more than six months in any year, and principally use the vehicle in connection with their New Hampshire abode.  Question 5 is answered stating that college students who reside in New Hampshire for more than six months in any year are required to obtain New Hampshire driver’s licenses if they wish to drive in the state and required to register in New Hampshire any vehicles they keep in the state.

 

Gilles Bissonnette and Henry Klementowicz, American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire, Concord, Julie Ebenstein, Theresa Lee and Dale Ho, American Civil Liberties Union Foundation, New York, William Christie, S. Amy Spencer, and James Armillay, Jr., for the plaintiffs. Gordon MacDonald, Attorney General, (Anthony Galdieri, Seth M. Zoracki and Samuel Garland), Concord, and Bryan Gould and Cooley Arroyo, Cleveland, Waters and Bass, Concord, for the defendants.