On his Law Day visit to Merrimack Valley High School, Chief Justice John T. Broderick, Jr. spoke with students about the structure of the court system and how it works.
"Our court system is the envy of the world," said Broderick. "Other countries admire it because it’s not subject to political influence and the changing political climate."
Broderick emphasized that the courts are governed by the provisions of the state constitution. "It’s one of the oldest constitutions in the country, pre-dating even the US Constitution," he said. "We broke from England because we were suspicious of power, especially power in the hands of one man."
"Our courts are bound by the constitution," he continued. "The legislature may choose to change the laws, but until it does, the courts are obligated to abide by them as written. And because we are bound by the constitution, the legislature has the right to challenge a court decision that it considers unconstitutional."
He explained why federal judges are chosen for life. "If judges were appointed for short terms, they would have to be concerned about being re-appointed—maybe even running for election," Broderick said. "But if you’re appointed for life, you can put all your attention on your work and not be subject to political changes—nor be influenced by the money contributed to your re-election if a donor should come before you in court."
"What do judges do?" asked Broderick. In answering his own question, he spoke in particular about the NH Supreme Court, explaining that it’s the business of the court to hear appeals—and to write opinions. He said the hardest thing about the job is the constant reading—and remarked that the continuous writing of opinions is "like having a term paper due every Friday."
Broderick, who was a trial lawyer for 27 years before becoming a judge, said he loved being a trial lawyer. He called the work of trial lawyers "fundamentally important."
"I hope that some of you will consider being lawyers," he said. "The work of the courts and the protection of our rights would not be possible without trial lawyers."
In an attempt to explain the judgments handed down by the supreme court, Broderick discussed the role of common law. "When there is no written law or statute, we make our decisions based on what is known as ‘common law,’" he said. "We apply or extend it."
Broderick told the students that the judicial branch of government is not better than the other branches—just different. "Courts level the playing field for citizens," he said. "Judges aren’t there to do the popular thing, but to do the right thing."
In speaking of the increasing number of self-represented litigants, he compared the courts to hospitals. "If you got injured and went to the emergency room—and you had no insurance—you would not expect to be directed to medical textbooks to treat your own injury. Even if they supplied you with the best sterilized instruments, you would not want to do you own medical work."
"It’s really important that everyone has access to proper legal help and representation," he continued. "The courts can’t do their job well unless challenged by people who know what they’re doing."
Broderick urged the students to take an interest in the judicial system and concluded his remarks by saying that it’s the job of everyone to make the court system work.