June 6, 2008
LITCHFIELD – A superior court judge denied an attempt by a legal rights group and coalition of New Hampshire towns to force the House of Representatives to redistrict itself before the November elections.
Merrimack County Superior Court Judge Carol Ann Conboy denied the petition filed by the New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation and seven towns, including Litchfield and Wilton, to bar Secretary of State William Gardner from holding the elections until all towns with at least 3,100 people have their own representative.
The Legal Rights Foundation’s lawyer and executive director William O’Brien, a Mont Vernon attorney, said he is preparing an appeal to the state Supreme Court that he hopes will be heard late this summer.
The high court already denied a motion for an emergency appeal, he said.
The group had hoped to delay the filing period for the fall election until the House was redistricted. O’Brien said that almost certainly won’t happen because the court declined to hear the emergency appeal. The decision would only impact later elections.
The group’s argument hinged on a 2006 constitutional amendment that, it claims, demands a redistricting so any town with 3,100 people has its own legislator. That number is based on the state’s estimated population in the 2000 Census: 1,235,786, which is then divided by the 400 representatives in the House.
Conboy said in her decision that the amendment made clear changes would be made following the next U.S. Census update, which will be in 2010.
“. . . given the plain and unambiguous language of the constitutional amendment, which the voters passed by a wide margin, the court concludes that ordering the requested relief would contravene the voters’ expressed intent that redistricting occur after the next decennial census.”
O’Brien said the ruling should have focused on what voters expected and that was an immediate change to smaller districts.
“We’re convinced our arguments are solid and we’re convinced the voters really wanted the amendment to come into effect immediately,” O’Brien said.
Paul Mirski, a former state representative and New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation organizer, said voting pamphlets associated with the amendment guaranteed an immediate change.
“We’ll continue to pursue it,” he said. “This case is not what the legislature intends. It’s about what the people expected when they voted in 2006. I think (Conboy) misconstrued the material.”