State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon J. MacDonald speaks to Conant High School students

  • New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon J. MacDonald speaks to Conant High School students Monday. STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/7/2023 3:28:04 PM

Conant High School seniors and juniors had the chance to hear from New Hampshire Supreme Court Chief Justice Gordon J. MacDonald and attorney John B. Garvey on Monday as part of National Judicial Outreach Week, a statewide initiative where judges and lawyers discuss the importance of upholding the rule of law.

The first National Judicial Outreach Week took place in 2017 and has been celebrated annually since, after having been developed by the ABA’s Judicial Outreach Network Committee “to encourage judges and lawyers who support a fair and impartial judiciary to engage the community directly.”

Speaking on the need for an impartial judicial system that hold everyone equally accountable, MacDonald referred to the rule of law as “a thread that holds together everything important in our society.”

MacDonald has been the 37th chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court since 2021. Prior to that, he served as the state’s attorney general from 2017, and was in private practice before that. Speaking of the role of law in society, he took students back to pre-Revolutionary America, the breaking away from British rule and the monarchal system, the establishment of the Declaration of Independence and, key to how the United States and New Hampshire interpret the law today, the establishment of both the state and federal constitution.

“The most-fundamental, basic basis of our law is our Constitution,” MacDonald said.

He was joined on Monday by Garvey, an attorney, the founding director of the Daniel Webster Scholar Honors Program and a professor emeritus at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law. Garvey was one of the original principal attorneys in the Claremont case, litigation that led to the finding that the way the state funded education was unconstitutional.

Garvey noted that key in the Claremont case was the idea that the New Hampshire constitution, and the article in it which stated the State of New Hampshire “cherished” education. Garvey said the interpretation of that wording was eventually that the right to an adequate education in the state was protected – even though it was not guaranteed under the federal Constitution.

MacDonald and Garvey engaged students in a discussion about current debates centered around the rule of law, including the lack of the right to representation in civil cases, the requirement for New Hampshire state judges to retire at the age of 70 and whether judges should be elected or appointed.

Students fell on both sides of the issues. Some said they were fine with the forced retirement age, citing the need for younger perspectives and sharp legal minds, with the majority indicating by a show of hands they would be fine with leaving the retirement age at the current level and only a few indicating they would support raising the age to 75.

Similarly, students wavered on whether New Hampshire should elect or appoint its Supreme Court and Trial Court judges. Currently, the governor appoints them, and they are confirmed by the Executive Council. Some students said giving more direct control to the people, via elections, was a positive, while others said judges nearing elections could feel pressure to make a landmark decision, rather than focus on interpreting the law objectively.

When asked about the importance of diversity in the state’s judicial system, MacDonald said it was an issue, saying New Hampshire’s legal profession as a whole was not very diverse, and thus neither was the judiciary. He said having a diversity of backgrounds, experiences and viewpoints was key in ensuring fairness.

Ashley Saari can be reached at or 603-924-7172, Ext. 244. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.

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