Power Corrupts

Some of our state legislators have embarked on a campaign to diminish the power of the judicial branch of state government. They are doing so by proposing legislation such as periodic evaluation screenings of judges and challenging the Court’s power to make its own rules.  These are the efforts of people in government who want to amass more power and who misunderstand or want to radically change our system of government.

The New Hampshire State Constitution became effective in 1784, six years before the Federal Constitution. Our constitutional convention, after several drafts were rejected by the voters, used the Massachusetts 1780 State Constitution as a model, revising it in several respects. The Massachusetts Constitution was in large part the work of John Adams, one of our country’s principal constitutional theorists. The Massachusetts Constitution he helped draft was also a model for the Federal Constitution.

According to Adams, a plan of government needed checks and balances to prevent a dangerous concentration of power.  He believed that one way to accomplish that was by maintaining a “separation of powers” between three branches of government: executive (governor), legislative (house and senate) and judicial (courts). With separate counter-balancing powers between the branches of government, no one branch would be able to abuse its power. That concept is a fundamental principle implicit in US Constitution and explicit in the New Hampshire Constitution.

The separation of powers principle is so fundamental in New Hampshire law that it is specifically set out in The Bill of Rights section, Part I, Article 37, of the New Hampshire constitution:

 “In the government of this state, the three essential powers thereof, to wit the legislative, executive and judicial, ought to be kept as separate from, and independent of, each other, as the nature of a free government will admit, or as is consistent with that chain of connection that binds the whole fabric of the constitution in one indissoluble bond of union and amity.”

It is to be expected that one branch will resent the counterbalancing power of another branch.  Our system of government has actually institutionalized that tension as a good and prudent thing.  However, when a thirst for power drives one branch of government to act to undermine the powers of another branch of government, the balance of power inherent in our plan of government, and the liberties dependent upon it, are threatened.

By:  Peter G. Webb