Confirmation of Roberts puts our rights at stake

New Hampshire occasionally offers curious items for the nation to ponder. Most obvious is our unique presidential primary. There’s our seemingly magnetic force drawing Free Staters. A Republican governor unwittingly moving us from red to blue. A mutiny in the state Senate.

Now comes our rogue Attorney General Kelly Ayotte stirring up the pot in the momentous decision on the next chief justice of the United States. She didn’t have to do it, but on her own she appealed lower court decisions that undid the damage done to reproductive rights when the Legislature and our self-destructed Governor Benson passed an invasive parental notification law.

Never mind that the overwhelming majority of Granite Staters are pro-choice. Never mind that the law was recognized as unconstitutional by not one, but two federal courts, Ayotte’s appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court takes advantage of the momentary shift to a far right, top-down, anti-privacy rights administration and court nominee. Good work, Kelly.

Though most New Hampshire Republicans are traditional, minimalist government types, the extremist fringe, now with the reins of national power in hand, see an opportunity to chip away our traditional constitutional rights.

While a shared valuing of privacy rights remains one of New Hampshire’s most enduring and pervasive qualities, the group heading up the effort to confirm John Roberts as chief justice, called Progress For America spent about $20 million on TV ads aimed at undermining these basic constitutional rights.

When Progress for America’s spokesperson Jeff Lord appeared on my radio show this summer, he eagerly pointed out that the word “privacy” appears nowhere in the Constitution. The truth is it was so obvious, so essential to every other right, the drafters of that document saw no need to explicitly state it.

Right to privacy is the underlying basis of third and fourth amendments, which deal with forced quartering of soldiers and protection from unreasonable searches and seizures. Right to privacy forms the basis of the Supreme Court’s 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut case, which allowed birth control to be sold to married couples, and was the basis of the recent Supreme Court’s overturning of Texas’ Bowers v. Hardwick decision which had held that there is no fundamental right to private consensual sex in one’s own home.

When our senators Judd Gregg and John E. Sununu vote to confirm Roberts, as they surely will, some of our most basic New Hampshire values, which we now take for granted will almost certainly be eroded for decades to come.

John Roberts also is determined to move the nation’s laws to the extreme right. Not just with the erosion of what most of us consider to be constitutionally protected privacy rights, but also the expanded power of the executive at the expense of the legislative.

Are Gregg and Sununu so at odds with their New Hampshire constituents, so lockstep with this president, that they will vote to significantly weaken the wall of separation between church and state, as Roberts’ record shows he’d likely do?

In non-democratic governments, there may well be greater efficiency. But in whatever democracy we have left, the only appropriate way to proceed is with caution. Checks and balances — what a concept. Careful deliberation and due diligence by the Senate is required. Our rights for generations are at stake.

Burt Cohen, a former state senator, now hosts a Portsmouth radio talk show.

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