With Sununu vowing veto, High Court poised to take over redistricting

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Supreme Court building in Concord (Nancy West photo)

CONCORD -- The state Supreme Court said Monday it will take over jurisdiction of a lawsuit filed over the redrawing of the state's congressional map.

The suit was filed by former House Speaker Teri Norelli and others.

The court intends to appoint a special master to oversee the redrawing of maps for the state's two congressional districts.

The suit was filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court South and claimed the legislature is at an impasse with the governor threatening to veto the plan approved by the House and Senate that made major changes in the two districts. Under the plan 35 percent of voters moved from one district to the other.

The governor and Republican lawmakers agreed to a new map that would have the state's two Democratic U.S. House members, in the same district and would also move more than 100,000 voters into a new district.

The five voters filing the suit, including Norelli, argue the districts will not be finalized when the candidate filing period with the Secretary of State's Office opens in June. Secretary of State David Scanlan is the defendant in the suit.

In the order by Chief Justice Gordon MacDonald and the four associate justices, the court takes supervisory jurisdiction over the case from the Superior Court saying the issue needs to be resolved quickly so the dates of the filing period do not have to be changed. The filing period for candidates runs from June 1 to June 10.

"We must take certain preliminary steps in this case now so that, in the event that the legislative process fails to produce a fully enacted congressional redistricting plan, we will be prepared to resolve the case in a thorough and efficient manner," the court writes. "Our invocation of jurisdiction over this case in no way precludes the legislature from enacting a redistricting plan. See Monier, 122 N.H. at 476 (explaining that judicial relief becomes appropriate only when a legislature fails to reapportion according to constitutional requirements after the legislature has had an adequate opportunity to do). We will terminate this proceeding if a congressional reapportionment plan is validly enacted at any time prior to the close of this case."

The court said it intends to appoint Professor Nathaniel Persily, of Stanford Law School, to serve as special master in this case.

In its order, the court cites the case brought by then State Sen. Clifton Below, D-Lebanon, concerning the state senate districts the legislature failed to approve in 2002 and the court took over the process to redraw the maps for the Senate and the House.

"The redistricting approach adopted in Below I is a 'least change' approach. See id. at 14 ('Further, unlike the plans submitted by the parties, the court's plan imposes the least change for New Hampshire citizens in that it changes the senate districts for only 18.82% of the State's population (232,565 citizens).'); id. at 28 (explaining that the court's amended plan, which was developed in response to a motion to reconsider the court's June 24, 2002 opinion, 'furthers the court's goal of imposing the least change for New Hampshire citizens in that it changes the senate districts for even fewer people than the court's June 24 plan');

The court established a schedule for briefs.

On or before April 20, 2022, the Secretary of State shall submit a statement identifying which, if any, of the material facts alleged in the plaintiffs' complaint are disputed by him.

Other interested parties have until April 25 to file briefs addressing specific issues such as if using the existing districts would be unconstitutional, the time needed for the filing period and printing ballots for the state primary in September, questions on the least change approach and the appointment of a special master.

Oral arguments will be May 4, a hearing before the special counsel is scheduled May 19, at 1 p.m. and oral arguments on the counsel's report before the Supreme Court is scheduled May 24, at 1p.m.

Garry Rayno may be reached at

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