3-Minute Civic: The components of constitutions

“You are violating my First Amendment rights. “” I am exercising my right to the Second Amendment. “I summon the Fifth.”

These sentences are shortcuts for important constitutional freedoms: freedom of speech, the right to bear arms and the right to refuse to answer during questioning by police. All of them are enshrined in the First Ten Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, known as the Bill of Rights.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that New Hampshire had its own constitution before the United States. And the New Hampshire Bill of Rights is in many ways much more explicit and expansive in its protections of individual freedoms than the National Bill of Rights.

New Hampshire was the first of 13 states to establish its own constitution, with the adoption of an initial temporary constitution on January 5, 1776. This original New Hampshire constitution did not contain many details, and in 1784 voters replaced it with the current version. The revised state constitution included a list of basic human freedoms. Voters in New Hampshire adopted the state constitution with its own Bill of Rights seven years before the Bill of Rights became part of the United States Constitution.

While the United States Constitution grants all Americans the same minimum rights, state constitutions set out the freedoms enjoyed by people who live and work in that state. In some cases, including that of New Hampshire, state constitutions guarantee greater freedoms than those in the US Constitution. This helps to eliminate the doubt about the rights enjoyed by the people of this state. In our case, these expanded or more explicit rights include possession of firearms, confidentiality, open access to government, and protections against unreasonable searches.

Much has been written about the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, whether it protects an individual’s right to own firearms. The United States Supreme Court addressed this issue with respect to the federal constitution in District of Columbia v. Heller in 2008, but she remains at the center of national public debate. New Hampshire, however, was much more explicit in 1982 with the addition of section 2-a to its Bill of Rights. This provision reads as follows: “Everyone has the right to possess and bear arms in defense of himself, his family, his property and the State”.

The right to privacy has also sparked much public debate. In a number of cases, the United States Supreme Court has recognized a right to privacy against government intrusion into certain aspects of people’s daily lives. However, the word “privacy” does not appear anywhere in the US Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that the right to privacy, which underpins the protections of same-sex marriage, abortion, and even the right of married couples to use contraception, is enshrined in various provisions of the federal constitution. Because there is no explicit privacy protection, these decisions are the subject of vigorous public debate and constant attention in judicial confirmation hearings in the United States Senate.

On the other hand, New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the state’s Bill of Rights three years ago that establishes an explicit right to privacy. Although the limits of this amendment have not yet been tested in the courts, in approving Section 2-b, voters in New Hampshire enshrined the principle that “the right of an individual to live to the shelter from government intrusion into private or personal information is natural, essential and inherent. “

The right to hold public servants to account does not appear in the US Constitution at all. But New Hampshire recognized the importance of this right in 1784 with Part I, Section 8 of the State Bill of Rights, which states that “government should therefore be open, accessible, accountable and responsive.”

In 1976, voters broadened this concept, adding language that ensures that “the right of the public to access government proceedings and records shall not be unreasonably restricted.” This passage is often cited in right-to-know applications for access to local and national public documents.

In contrast, the US Constitution does not guarantee citizens the right to inspect government records. The Freedom of Information Act is a law passed by Congress, which provides access to certain federal government documents. Since the right to inspect public records is not protected by the US Constitution, Congress might as well restrict public access to government records by passing a new law.

Even where state and federal constitutions contain parallel provisions, such as the right not to be subject to “unreasonable search and seizure,” the New Hampshire Supreme Court has a long and proud tradition of interpreting the constitution. of our State as having broader protections than those recognized. by the Supreme Court of the United States.

For example, in 1988, the United States Supreme Court ruled that police did not need to apply for a warrant to search the garbage left on the sidewalk. In contrast, in 2003, the New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled that law enforcement must seek judicial approval to search a person’s garbage. The state court explained that “clues to people’s innermost traits and affairs can be found in their garbage. Almost all human activity ultimately manifests in the waste, and any individual may naturally wish to maintain the confidentiality of their waste.

With these independent protections in the constitution of our state, we stand out and demonstrate our values. On the anniversary of the Battle of Bennington, Revolutionary War General John Stark ended his letter to veterans reminding them of the importance of their sacrifice for American freedoms, writing: ” Live free or die: death is not the worst of evils. General Stark’s words eventually became our state’s celebrated motto, but nowhere has this principle been more enduring than in the New Hampshire Constitution.

(Will Delker was appointed to the New Hampshire Superior Court in 2011 and currently sits on the Hillsborough County — Northern District Superior Court in Manchester.)

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Richard V. Johnson