There’s another fight brewing in New Hampshire, but it has nothing to do with the upcoming presidential primary. And contrary to the lede, it’s really only tangentially related to the abortion debate, focusing more on how the state government manages to waste the taxpayer’s money on quixotic, ideological food fights. Steve Mac Donald of Watchdog Arena has a great, in-depth report this week on how the state legislature, led by the chamber’s Democrats, is fighting to maintain a law mandating protest “buffer zones” around abortion clinics long after the Supreme Court found such laws to be unconstitutional in McCullen v Coakley.
Even while the case was well underway, the Granite State legislature passed their own law mandating a 25 foot perimeter around abortion clinics where protesters could not demonstrate. But now, even after the SCOTUS ruling, a bill to repeal the law is stalled in the legislature and they seem to be prepared to fight it out in court. As Mac Donald points out, this is going to cost the taxpayers a bundle.
The Alliance Defending Freedom lawsuit was stayed by the court pending action by the New Hampshire legislature. With a restraining order in place, the legislative branch was free to respond to the Supreme Court ruling. If a repeal bill passed, the court case could be dropped, saving taxpayers the cost of litigation.
The Legislature responded with HB 403. The text of the legislation quotes Judge Laplante’s order and includes this fiscal note from the NH Department of Justice:
The Department is involved in litigation defending the current law in Federal Court. The Department states this bill (HB403) would likely result in dismissal of the lawsuit and the time currently being spent on the case would cease. As of January 1, 2015, the Department has spent 190 hours defending the case.
The state of Massachusetts paid over $1.2 million dollars for Eleanor McCullen’s attorney’s fees plus the state’s costs to defend the law. While it is unlikely the NH law will survive the district court level, taxpayers will be on the hook for the cost to defend a law that has been deemed unconstitutional if the repeal fails.
This one should be a fairly easy call for the taxpayers of New Hampshire no matter which side of the abortion debate they come down on. The Supreme Court’s ruling ensures that access to clinics must be allowed, and those blocking such access will be subject to punishment. But as Justice Scalia wrote in the majority decision, the real question here is one of free speech. You are not protected from hearing speech you may disagree with while entering or exiting a clinic, you are only assured free passage.
New Hampshire is almost guaranteed to lose the fight on this and the taxpayers will be on the hook for the bill. Is this the level of service they should expect from the Democrats (and a handful of their Republicans too) in their duty to guard the public purse? No matter what the appeal winds up costing, it’s too much money to spend on an argument over a subject where the judiciary has already closed the books.