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In Suit Over State N.H. House Gun Ban, Supreme Court Hears Separation of Powers Debate

Annie Ropeik

The New Hampshire Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday on whether the legislature can ban firearms from Representatives Hall at the State House.

The ban has been a partisan issue that's varied over the years as the makeup of the House has shifted. It was reinstated last year by the current Democratic majority, under House Speaker Steve Shurtleff.

A handful of opponents turned up to watch as the case was argued at the Supreme Court Tuesday. One wore a shirt that called Shurtleff, the primary defendant in the case, a "constitutional violator." 

The court appeal comes from lawmakers who oppose the ban, including Republican Rep. John Burt of Goffstown.

He says the state's judicial branch should weigh in on legislative rules that touch on constitutional issues.

Burt's attorney, Dan Hynes, told the high court’s justices that this isn't a Second Amendment case, but:

"The New Hampshire state constitution makes it clear that the legislature does not have authority to pass unconstitutional law,” Hynes says.

A lawyer for the House countered that this would give the judicial branch too much oversight and would violate the separation of powers.

The Supreme Court will now decide whether to send the case back to a lower court for further review. There’s no set timeline for a ruling.

Click here to read the appellants' brief in the case, and the reply brief from Shurtleff and the legislature. 

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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