Bar News - October 19, 2016
Board Perspective: NH Lawyers Have Important Role in Politics
By: Peter Hutchins
This Presidential Election year has already seen many spirited campaigns in New Hampshire and nationally. Perhaps more than any other year in recent history, the Presidential campaign has featured passionate debates and disagreements on both sides. We have hotly contested races for US Senate and Congress, as well as every state political race from Governor to Executive Council to the NH House and Senate. In short, it has been a fascinating year.
I have always been a political junkie. I think a lot of New Hampshire lawyers can say the same thing, perhaps due in part to our “First in the Nation” status, which tends to place politics in our state in the national headlines every four years. We are a small state, but an important one, and as lawyers, we tend to automatically take an interest in public policy and discourse.
Despite my lifelong interest in politics, however, I never really connected the world of politics to my profession as a New Hampshire lawyer until January of this year, when I was asked to serve as New Hampshire counsel for a Presidential candidate during the primary.
This opportunity provided me with a personal and professional experience I had never thought possible, let alone likely. I was able to meet the candidate on a number of occasions and get some great pictures and campaign stuff. More importantly, this convergence of my professional life with my personal interest in politics and government provided me with the opportunity to work with national counsel in Washington and see from the inside just how important lawyers are to politics and the orderly constitutional transition of power known as elections.
This experience provided me with a perfect opportunity to reflect on the unique role New Hampshire lawyers play in the political process and in public service in general. Many New Hampshire lawyers have run for and held statewide and local political office, and we are disproportionately represented among those who are considered political activists and operatives. New Hampshire attorneys represent campaigns and candidates, participate as state party delegates, monitor polling places on Election Day, and serve as local ward moderators. We engage in lively debates with each other as well as non-lawyer friends and fellow citizens on issues ranging from the economy and national defense to social and civil rights. We lobby for access to justice, and for (or against) legislation affecting the judiciary and the interests of our clients. Our political views range from right to left and everywhere in between.
Most importantly, however, I think lawyers can and do play a critical role in the electoral process itself. The rights of political speech and to vote are among the most important Constitutional rights enjoyed by Americans – and lawyers are at the forefront of the political process to help protect those rights.
As candidates and campaigns can become negative and hostile as they fight for every vote, attorneys have the unique opportunity to inject civility into the process. As the campaigns grind on, voters cast their ballots, votes are counted, and the winning candidates are certified and sworn into office, attorneys across our state work to ensure that the rule of law is honored and upheld. As attorneys, we are viewed as counselors and voices of reason. We advise and assist our clients, and if necessary, litigate their cases, and do so with respect for the process and our opponents.
As Election Day approaches, we are reminded of the many roles New Hampshire lawyers can and should play in the political process, and in our local, state and national governments. Whether we work for a campaign or party, serve as state and national delegates, work as local ward moderators, poll watch to ensure the legitimacy of the process or run for political office, we can all work to carry on the long proud tradition of New Hampshire lawyers of involvement in our political process. And, one last word – don’t forget to exercise one of your most precious rights as an American and vote on Nov. 8.
Note: President-elect Scott Harris has invited other members of the Board of Governors to participate in the Perspectives column this year.