What Do GOP Candidates Think About New Hampshire's Bizarre Legislature?

Republican control of the state house has led to an outlandish assault on the judiciary. If elected, would the GOP presidential contenders replicate what's happened in the Granite State?

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The Republican primary race is about to pass through New Hampshire, and the national media have descended upon the Granite State to offer us their wit and wisdom on presidential politics and to be, in turn, educated and entertained by the contenders and pretenders still in the hunt for the nomination. It's a perfect time to ask the surviving candidates what they think of some of the bizarre recent machinations of the New Hampshire House of Representatives, which has taken its crazy train off the rails since the 2010 election gave Republicans a three-to-one majority in that chamber.

Newt Gingrich trashed the courts and got trounced in Iowa. Now Rick Santorum is trashing judges on his way to getting trounced in New Hampshire. If the New England Traveler News Network can offer suggestions to the candidates on where to get a good burger, I certainly feel justified in offering a few suggestions to my fellow journalists about which law-related questions they ought to ask the candidates between now and Tuesday's primary. I only have a few.

1. In October, the New Hampshire House of Representatives, led by Republican Rep. Dan Itse, passed a dubious measure "repudiating" a decision by the Supreme Court of New Hampshire. That decision had endorsed the view of the executive branch, which had argued that the legislature could not force the state's attorney general to join a lawsuit against the Obama Administration and the Affordable Care Act. The legislature, in other words, sought to trump both of the other two branches of state government that were each performing core functions.

On this point, my questions for the candidates are: Do they endorse this use of taxpayer time and money by elected officials? If they are elected president, are they going to applaud similar moves by Congress to repudiate those United States Supreme Court decisions with which some lawmakers disagree? Are the candidates, if elected to the White House, going to embrace the notion that national legislators can threaten the Justice Department if federal lawyers choose in the exercise of their discretion not to join certain lawsuits?

2. In November, Republican members of the New Hampshire House of Representatives began screaming at members of the state's executive branch, who had come to the legislative chamber to explain to the elected officials there why they weren't about to take President Barack Obama's name off the 2012 ballot. The request to do so had been made by those elected officials in the Granite State who still believe that the President is a Kenyan. An investigation is still pending, I believe, into whether any laws were broken by the lawmakers.

On this point, my questions for the presidential candidates are: Do they condone the conduct of their fellow Republicans in this instance? Do they believe the "birther" issue is quite literally worth fighting over in the 2012 presidential race? Are they ready now to concede that every second spent arguing over the President's nationality is a second less spent on making life better for the residents of New Hampshire? What is their current position on the "birther" issue and its projected impact upon the national election?

Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

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