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Sununu supreme court pick questioned on guns



Monitor staff
Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Attorneys, advocates and law enforcement officials turned out in full force Monday to back Republican Gov. Chris Sununu’s first nominee to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.

But Executive Council members said they left the public hearing with some questions about Anna Barbara Hantz Marconi’s lack of familiarity with a landmark decision on gun rights and a constitutional law scholar she cited as an influence.

“I was a little surprised she hadn’t heard about ‘Heller’ before,” said Republican Councilor David Wheeler, who questioned the nominee on the U.S. Supreme Court decision that individuals have a Second Amendment right to own a firearm. “We will be exploring that a little bit further with her.”

Sununu nominated the Manchester attorney, better known as Bobbie Hantz, to replace soon-to-be-retired Associate Justice Carol Ann Conboy. If confirmed by the five member council, Hantz could serve more than eight years on the state’s highest court before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Though past nominees have typically had some experience on the bench, Hantz has been primarily in private practice since graduating law school in 1992. Currently a shareholder at Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green P.A., Hantz’s focus is mostly land use litigation and family law. She said becoming a justice is a unique opportunity to implement the law.

“Here is where you can really make a difference for government and also in people’s live by setting tone and setting guidance,” said Hantz, who told councilors she has previously applied for openings on the state circuit and superior courts.

Questioned about her limited experience with criminal cases, which make up roughly a quarter of the Supreme Court docket, Hantz said she would need to “get up to speed.”

“This is a serious part of the docket, these are important issues,” she said.

Supporters, however, said Hantz would enrich the bench with her depth of experience arguing land use and family law cases in lower courts. Many cited her work ethic and the time she takes mentoring new lawyers and helping clients.

“She really is one of the Granite State’s sharpest legal minds,” said Sandra Cabrera, a trial attorney in Colebrook.

There were no testy exchanges during the hearing, though Concord Executive Councilor Andru Volinsky pressed Hantz on whether she agreed with the views of her law school professor Randy Barnett she named in opening remarks.

Barnett authored the book Restoring the Lost Constitution, which argues that courts have been “cutting holes in the original Constitution and its amendments to eliminate the parts that protect liberty from the power of government,” according to Princeton University Press.

Hantz said she wasn’t familiar with the book’s concept, but interested in his take on the nineth and 10th amendments. On the constitution, Hantz said society changes, but the principles stay the same.

“The interpretation constitution was written well, it was written directly and it was written with meaning; it needs to be able to be applied in new circumstances,” she said.

Before going to law school, Hantz was active in Republican politics, working on several campaigns and serving as executive director of the state GOP. When asked by Councilor Chris Pappas how she would cut political ties, Hantz said she already has been shifting from active politics to policy.

Hantz is currently on the board of directors for the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy, a free-market think tank whose employees have written articles opposing commuter rail and questioned climate science. But she said ideology doesn’t have a role on the bench.

“The court is an unbiased hearing board,” Hantz said. “I don’t put myself in an ideological spectrum so much as I am curious in terms of issues of policy.”

After the hearing, Hantz clarified she knows of the District of Columbia v. Heller, decision, but hasn’t read it in “I can’t tell you how long” and is not familiar with the specifics.

A vote on Hantz’s nomination is expected Wednesday. If confirmed, Hantz would be third female justice to serve on the state’s highest court, but she told the all-male council she looks forward to the day “when I am just a person being nominated for the Supreme Court.”

Sununu is expected to have a hand in reshaping the state’s highest court. Two of the five justices are expected to retire during his first two-year term and another in 2019.

Like past governors, Sununu formed a judicial selection commission made up of attorneys, law enforcement and business leaders to help him pick nominees. But unlike Govs. Jeanne Shaheen, John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, Sununu didn’t include a provision that bars commission members from seeking a spot on the bench until they have been off the selection commission for at least a year.

Sununu appointed Hantz to his judicial selection commission in February. She resigned when she applied for the Supreme Court opening, she told councilors Monday. Hantz wasn’t able to attend of the commission’s meeting before she stepped down, she said. Previously, Hantz spent six years as a member of Lynch’s judicial selection commission. The commission makes recommendations, then the governor puts forward the nominee he or she chooses.

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or amorris@cmonitor.com.)