N.H. Judge  To Retire From Superior Court

Man Who Struck Down Voter Registration Law Leaving Bench

Concord — The superior court judge who recently struck down or blocked education and election law reforms crafted by the Republican-led Legislature is retiring from the bench next month.

John M. Lewis, 67, informed court administrators and Gov. Maggie Hassan that he will step down Sept. 6, The Telegraph has confirmed.

The seventh-most senior judge on the Superior Court, Lewis was first nominated for this post in 2001 by then-Gov. Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat who is the state’s senior U.S. senator.

“I have been privileged to serve the people of New Hampshire as a superior court judge for over 12 years, but it is now time to retire and move on to other pursuits,” Lewis wrote in his retirement letter. “Please accept my thanks for the opportunity to do the work I have so enjoyed.”

Lewis is leaving nearly three years before May 22, 2016, when he would have to retire at age 70.

Hassan’s judicial screening commission will interview applicants to replace him, and reportedly, the panel will be accepting applications through the end of this month.

The panel gives Hassan a list of preferred candidates from which the governor may nominate someone to the Executive Council for approval.

Lewis spent most of his judicial career sitting in the Strafford County Superior Courthouse in Dover.

Two months ago, Lewis struck down as unconstitutional part of a state law that offers business owners tax credits if they support student scholarships to go to religious schools.

Lewis left intact the rest of the law that permits tax credits for those who support scholarship for students to attend non-parochial or alternative public schools.

Supporters and opponents of the tax credit law have appealed different parts of Lewis’ ruling to the state Supreme Court.

Hassan called it a “victory for public education” while critics branded it as “absurd” and “appalling.”

Last fall, Lewis presided over a challenge to a second Republican-sponsored law that informed new voters that when they register to vote, they may need to change car registrations or their driver license to New Hampshire.

Lewis blocked that new voter registration form from being used in the 2012 election, judging it at that point as vague and confusing to voters.

Lewis set for January 2014 a two-year trial on the merits of this case between the state defending this law and lawyers on behalf of four college students who challenged it.

Greg Moore is state director of Americans for Prosperity, a fiscally-conservative group that backed both laws pressed for in 2011-12 when Rep. William O’Brien, R-Mont Vernon, was speaker of the New Hampshire House.

“When a judge loses the ability to decide matters of law of their merits and instead uses ideology to drive rulings, it is certainly time for him or her to retire, as it undermines the entire rule of law,” Moore said in a statement.“What’s unfortunate is that Judge Lewis has left the Supreme Court to clean up the mess he has made of recent cases. Thankfully, with his retirement, our highest court won’t need to protect this judge when they restore the constitutional authority back to the Legislative branch that Judge Lewis usurped.”

A strong opponent of the education tax credit law praised Lewis’ legal acumen on the matter, even though he had wanted it to be struck down in its entirety.

“This important opinion will carry a lot of weight in the state Supreme Court,” said Bill Duncan, founder of Advancing N.H. Public Education. “I don’t know him personally, but I think he should be proud of that decision. Having observing him many times in court, I found him neither liberal or conservative, just a very smart, fair judge.”