The First Amendment and would-be Sen. Hassan

Gov. Maggie Hassan (nh.gov photo)
Gov. Maggie Hassan (nh.gov photo)

We’ve seen New Hampshire’s Governor Maggie Hassan in action for two terms. So what would a Senator Hassan look like, if she should prevail over incumbent U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte on November 8?

Look back at one policy decision ratified by Hassan in 2014: the buffer zone law.

Buffer zones and the First Amendment

New Hampshire’s buffer zone law gives abortion facility managers the right to determine whether and where the First Amendment may be exercised within 25 feet from an abortion facility.

Maggie Hassan signed the law despite the fact that a challenge to a substantially similar law from Massachusetts was pending before the Supreme Court. Two weeks after the New Hampshire law was signed, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the Massachusetts law on First Amendment grounds. Hassan continued to defend New Hampshire’s version. She still supports it, even though no abortion facility in New Hampshire has put a zone into effect, as of October 2016. The facility managers know that litigation would doom the New Hampshire law.

Hassan signed the New Hampshire measure into effect even though the Court’s First-Amendment decision on the Massachusetts law was unanimous.


That’s what Governor Hassan thinks of the First Amendment as it applies to nonviolent pro-life demonstrators. Now she wants to become Senator Hassan, with power to confirm (or refuse to confirm) nominees to federal judgeships, including Supreme Court seats.

Dodging the First Amendment 

I reported in 2014 on the form letter I received from Hassan’s office two months after I and many other people had petitioned her not to sign the bill into law. An “assistant director of citizen services” wrote back.  Hassan wouldn’t even reply over her own signature. No skin off my nose, to be sure, but I caught the dismissal.

My 2014 post includes the full text of the letter from Hassan’s assistant. Not once in the letter did the assistant director of citizen services mention the First Amendment. No mention of the Supreme Court. No mention of the Masasachusetts law or the grounds on which it had been invalidated.

Watch your language

The 2014 letter is echoed in some of the language on Hassan’s Senate campaign web site (which has a high enough search ranking already without my linking to it): all-purpose terms, equally available for misuse whether the topic is nonviolence or a Senate seat.

The following bullet points are taken directly from my 2014 post reacting to the letter from Hassan’s assistant. Listening to 2016’s campaign messages, nothing’s changed.

  • “Critical health services.” In other words, cancer screening and contraception and abortion are all “critical.” Huh? The intentional direct taking of human life has nothing to do with “health.”

  • “Access…privacy…safety.” No mention that laws are already on the books against blocking access, against harassment including invasion of privacy, against violence. That was what doomed Massachusetts’s original buffer zone law – the failure to enforce existing laws first.

  • “Affordable access to basic health care coverage is critical to the economic security of women and families.” Knowing that abortion is part of what Hassan defines as “health care,” she’s saying – excuse me, her assistant is saying – that kids are disposable if they come up short in a woman’s cost-benefit analysis.

  • “…without fearing for their safety…” In the fantasy world occupied by the Governor and supporters of the buffer zone law, people standing in silent witness outside an abortion facility are no different from people entering an abortion facility bent on murdering the employees….In the real world, peaceful witnesses have just as much reason to fear violence as do an abortion facility’s employees.

A Seat in the Balance

I have heard from many people of good will who want me to reconsider my adamant refusal to support either major presidential candidate. The shape of the Supreme Court is the usual argument.

I understand the concern. Note well, though, that presidents can only nominate judges. The Senate confirms, or refuses to confirm. It’s the firewall against presidential whackery from any party’s standardbearer.

That’s why I think New Hampshire’s Senate race is at least as important as the presidential one – more important, actually, for those of us who have no top-of-the-ticket preference.

Candidate Hassan made a ceremony out of signing the buffer zone law, and now she wants a seat in the body that confirms jurists who will rule on First Amendment cases.

This is one race where I have no problem making a choice.