CONCORD, New Hampshire — A judge was wrong to dismiss a legislator’s challenge to a rule banning firearms inside New Hampshire’s 400-member House of Representatives, the state supreme court said in an opinion released Friday.
The court disagreed with a superior court judge’s conclusion that the issue presented a political question, not a legal one. It sent the case back to the judge. Neither court has addressed whether the House rule is constitutional.
For the past decade, rules on allowing guns in Representatives Hall, including the anteroom and public gallery overlooking it, have flipped back and forth, depending on which party held the majority. After four years in the minority, Democrats regained control of the House in 2018, and one of their first actions was to restore the rule that Republicans had thrown out in 2015.
Republican Rep. John Burt of Goffstown said the ban was as absurd as banning women or minorities from the House. He sued the speaker of the House of Representatives, but the judge dismissed the complaint, saying that the Legislature had the authority to make its own rules.
Attorneys argued the case before the state supreme court in early March, shortly before New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu declared a state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislative leaders suspended activities. The House eventually reconvened in June at the Whittemore Center at the University of New Hampshire in Durham to finish out the session.
Burt’s lawyer, Dan Hynes, had said if the New Hampshire Supreme Court doesn’t have the authority to decide whether anything done by the Legislature is unconstitutional, “there’s no remedy for people.” He asked the justices to send the case back to the judge to apply the right standard of whether the rule violates the state Constitution.
James Cianci, House legal counsel, said the judge recognized the constitutional authority of each co-equal branch of government to establish its own internal rules. While he said the court is the final arbiter of the constitution, he argued that it is unnecessary for it to enter into a constitutional inquiry of the gun rule.
Story by Kathy McCormack.