Cook on Concord: Constitutional indigestion at the state and federal levels

GOP gubernatorial candidate Jim Coburn was reported in the press as having made several pronouncements lately that, if truly representative of his opinion, are troubling.

He was quoted as saying that if he were governor, he would pick and choose among orders by the state Supreme Court as to which he would follow and which he would enforce. He made similar comments about other laws passed by the Legislature.

What is troubling is that Coburn, were he elected, would take an oath to “uphold the Constitution and the laws of the State of New Hampshire.” The final arbiter of laws in our state is the Supreme Court, which interprets the Constitution and, whether politicians like it or not, the system would fall apart were it not to respect those decisions. Politicians always can attempt to amend the state Constitution if they don’t like decisions — they cannot ignore them.

Throughout American history, from the threshold case of Marbury v. Madison, in which the U.S. Supreme Court established the right to review the actions of other branches of government, the supremacy of court decisions has been respected, notwithstanding the frustration of politicians.

Indeed, at the federal level, Richard Nixon produced the tapes and resigned the presidency after the historic decision in U.S. v. Nixon. He commanded the armed forces of the United States, but the moral suasion of the Supreme Court and its place in the government took precedence, notwithstanding the fact that the nine justices had no “troops.” Likewise, Al Gore disagreed with but accepted the decision of the Supreme Court in the case Gore v. Bush in 2000.

If Coburn means what he says, he would join such characters in American history as George Wallace and Lester Maddox in defying the court. I am not sure that is the company he wants to keep.


Two columns ago, I wrote about new college presidents leading some of the four-year traditional colleges in New Hampshire and the challenges those institutions face. This brought a reaction from those involved in our community technical college system, pointing out that there are new leaders of some of those institutions, as well as a new expanded role for the two-year “community colleges.”

Located in Nashua, Stratham, Manchester, Claremont, Concord, Laconia and Berlin, the system offers liberal arts courses, other basic college courses and grades are transferable to the institutions of the University System of New Hampshire and most private colleges.

By being able to transfer credits, graduates of the community colleges can transfer to the four-year colleges in New Hampshire, finish their education and receive a bachelor’s degree in a seamless process. A real win-win for everyone.

At the community technical college in Manchester, Darlene G. Miller, formerly of Washington state — where she was vice president at Shoreline Community College — recently took over as president. She has experience in community colleges in Auburn, Wash., Cleveland and Vermont. Her many publications include, “Of Blue Collars and Ivory Towers: Women from Blue-Collar Backgrounds in Higher Education.”

Those who have worked with Dr. Miller since her arrival in Manchester have found her to be energetic, enthusiastic and an eloquent proponent of community college education.

In Laconia, Mark G. Edelstein recently joined as president. His previous jobs were in California, where he served as president of the Diablo Valley College and before that vice president of the College of the Redwoods. He is a New Hampshire native and returned to Laconia where he leads a newly invigorated institution with new facilities.

His presentations and publications are extensive and those who have met him are, in the words of one observer, “blown away” by his academic qualifications and the talent he brings to his job.

Along with the other heads of the community technical college system, the system’s seven colleges afford tremendous opportunities to our students.

New Hampshire should treasure and appreciate its community technical colleges, their contribution to affordable education, preparation of the work force and integration with the traditional four-year schools.

Finally, one other new college president missed in my prior column is Jeffrey Nelson, who took over the helm of Thomas More College in Merrimack.

Leading a tiny school with just over 100 students, Nelson replaces Peter Sampo. Nelson was senior vice president at the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative group based in Delaware. Thomas More is an institution with a point of view, and Nelson hopes to increase its size and presence. nhbr

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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