After a decade of service, Susan Leahy is stepping down as chair of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society, which she helped found. She took some time to answer a few questions about the Society and its work.
Q. What is the Supreme Court Society’s mission?
A. The mission of the Society is to provide public education about the importance of the rule of law in civilized society and to demonstrate the key role the New Hampshire judiciary has played in our state’s history.
Q. What have been the highlights of the Society’s work?
To kick off the Constitutionally Speaking event series, former US Supreme Court Justice David Souter spoke with PBS News Hour senior correspondent Margaret Warner about the Constitution and civic engagement at Concord’s Capital Center for the Arts last September.
A. The Society’s Civics Education Task Force, co-chaired by trustees Tom Galligan, president of Colby Sawyer College, and UNH School of Law Dean John Broderick (and originally, then-Dean John Hutson), is addressing the need for K-12 civics education reform in New Hampshire’s public schools. As part of that effort, the Society will soon launch the New Hampshire Institute for Civic Education.
Aided by trustee Dianne Kearns Duncan, the Society is encouraging civic involvement and civil public discourse, resulting in the creation of Constitutionally Speaking, a series of public events about the US Constitution, government and the rights and responsibilities of citizens. The Society is the lead partner with the NH Humanities Council and UNH School of Law in Constitutionally Speaking. The pilot program was launched in September with a public conversation between former US Supreme Court Justice David Souter and PBS News Hour senior correspondent Margaret Warner before a capacity crowd at Concord’s Capitol Center for the Arts.
A second event, featuring three panels of distinguished scholars moderated by UNH Law professor John Greabe, was held in November. This first phase of Constitutionally Speaking will close in May 2013 with a program featuring constitutional litigators Ted Olson and David Boies, who argued opposing positions in Bush v. Gore and more recently joined forces to challenge the constitutionality of California’s gay marriage ban.
Under the leadership of trustees John Ransmeier and Maria Manus Painchaud, the Society established the Justice Elwin Page Volunteer Program. This program continues work begun by Justice Page by providing trained interns to work in the State Archives to preserve and catalog the thousands of boxes of superior court records.
Trustee Susan Leidy, and now trustee and retired Judge Kathleen McGuire, led the production of the Society’s first exhibit, "New Hampshire and the United States Supreme Court." The travelling exhibit is available on request for display in schools, courthouses, museums, hotel lobbies and other public places. It was made possible by a grant from the William W. Treat Foundation and dues from our members.
Retired Justice Joseph Nadeau, another Society trustee, led the effort by the Society to establish the Life and Liberty Award. To date, Life and Liberty Awards have been presented to Iraqi Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud in 2006, Congressman Tom Lantos in 2009, and most recently, in 2012, to Congressman John Lewis and Rev. Jonathan Daniels.
At the request of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the Society assumed responsibility for the John W. King Memorial Lecture Series, hosting Chief Justice Medhat al-Mahmoud in 2006, then-Harvard Law School Dean Elena Kagan in 2008, and US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer in 2011.
The Society sponsored the dedication ceremonies for the John W. King Library, the William Grimes and William Batchelder rooms, and the David H. Souter Judicial Conference Room at the NH Supreme Court.
Trustee Greg Smith, meanwhile, has played a key role in helping the Society to continue the oral history program begun by the NH Bar Foundation. With video recordings of Justices Merrill and Broderick interviewing each other, the Society has resumed video recording interviews with distinguished members of the state’s bench and bar.
Society Trustees Chuck Douglas and Jay Surdukowski have developed an entertaining and informative "road show" about the history of the NH Supreme Court, which has been presented to several local bar associations and is available on request.
Q. As you pass on the leadership position, what obstacles does the Society face?
A. The Society is an all-volunteer organization, and it operates almost exclusively with the financial support of its members. We have been blessed with many active and engaged trustees, who have enthusiastically taken the lead on Society projects, devoting the many hours that have made possible the accomplishment of so much in such a short time. Going forward, the Society will need to publicize its work and attract new and enthusiastic members.
Q. What, if any, future events does the Society have planned for 2013?
A. The next big event will be the John W. King Lecture with David Boies and Ted Olson on May 17. This will be the closing event for Constitutionally Speaking. The Society will also launch the New Hampshire Institute for Civic Education in 2013 and market its travelling exhibit, "New Hampshire and the United States Supreme Court."
Q. How does one become a member of the Supreme Court Society, and what are the various dues levels of membership?
A. Please visit the Society’s website at www.nhsupremecourtsociety.org. We have tiered membership levels, including $25 for students, $50 for young professionals, employees of nonprofits and government employees, $100 for regular members, $200 for benefactors, and a $1,500 lifetime membership level.
Sherry B. Young a founder and president of the law firm of Rath, Young & Pignatelli, has assumed the role as chair of the New Hampshire Supreme Court Society.