Selecting judges in New Hampshire is a three-step process involving three groups. First, the New Hampshire Judicial Selection Commission compiles a list of qualified candidates and sends it to the Governor. Then, the Governor nominates a judge from that list. Finally, the Executive Council votes yes or no to confirm the nomination. Pursuant to NH RSA 4:44, the Executive Council must hold a public hearing prior to confirmation of a judicial appointment. Notice must be given at least seven days prior in at least two newspapers of statewide circulation. Members of the public are encouraged to offer testimony at this hearing. This is the process for all judicial appointments, from the Circuit Court to the Supreme Court.
Judges in New Hampshire do not need to have law degrees and do not need to be members of the New Hampshire Bar Association though, in current practice, all judges are members of the Bar Association and are, therefore, lawyers. The New Hampshire Constitution and RSA 493:2 provides that judges may serve only until age 70.
In 1973, New Hampshire was among the first states to adopt the code of judicial conduct that had been approved just a few months earlier by the American Bar Association. With that action, New Hampshire formally recognized that supervision over the conduct of judges is essential to sustain public confidence in the justice system. Since 1977, the New Hampshire Supreme Court has overseen the disciplinary process for judges through the Judicial Conduct Committee. The Judicial Conduct Committee investigates complaints about a judge's conduct and imposes or recommends discipline, if appropriate, against a judge who violates the Code of Judicial Conduct.
The Code of Judicial Conduct is set out in Supreme Court Rule 38. The Code establishes standards for the ethical conduct of judges. It consists of four broad statements called Canons. Each Canon has its own text and a Commentary. There is also a Terminology section, which gives definitions, and an Application section, which tells to whom the Canons apply.
The general purpose of the Code of Judicial Conduct is to promote public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary. The four Canons are:
Canon 1: A judge shall uphold and promote the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.
Canon 2: A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially, competently, and diligently
Canon 3: A judge shall conduct the judge’s personal and extrajudicial activities to minimize the risk of conflict with the obligations of judicial office.
Canon 4: A judge or judicial candidate shall refrain from inappropriate political activity
Pursuant to Supreme Court Rule 38, these Canons apply to anyone who is an officer of a judicial system and who performs judicial functions.
A common question is: when does a judge reach the constitutional age limit?
Part 2, art. 78 of the New Hampshire Constitution says:
[Art.] 78. [Judges and Sheriffs, When Disqualified by Age.] No person shall hold the office of Judge of any Court, or Judge of Probate, or Sheriff of any county, after he has attained the age of seventy years.
To find out when a specific judge reaches the constitutional age limit, look at the Manual for the General Court (a.k.a. The Red Book). Turn to the State Government section and look for the Judiciary section, usually almost at the end of the book. There you will find all the judges appointed as of the publication of the Redbook with their appointment dates and their limitation by age. This includes supreme, superior, and circuit court judges. A link to the Manual is below.
After reaching the constitutional age limit, judge may continue to serve the State of New Hampshire as judicial referees.
We're often asked for the text of the oath that judges must swear and where a judge's signed commission can be found. The Governor administers the oath of office. The text of the oath is the same as that of most state officials and is found in the New Hampshire Constitution, Part 2, Form of Government, Oaths and Subscriptions Exclusion from Offices, Etc.
The signed oaths are held by the Secretary of State's office. For a copy of the signed oath, the Secretary of State's office asks that you submit your request in writing.
Chief Justice Robert J. Lynn resigned effective August 23, 2019 due to the constitutional limitation on age. There was quite a long gap between the resignation of Chief Justice Lynn and the appointment of the current chief, Chief Justice MacDonald. During this period, the Law Library was frequently asked whether this was the longest gap between appointments in supreme court history and whether there have been other long periods without a chief. This was by far the longest period that the supreme court has gone without a chief justice. The next longest was 11 months between the resignation of Simeon Olcott in June 1801 and the appointment of Jeremiah Smith on May 17, 1802. The link below leads to a list of of chief justices since 1776 with their dates of service.
Please remember that this guide is for information purposes only and is not comprehensive.
It is intended as a starting point for research, to illustrate the various sources of the law, and to provide guidance in their use.
NH Law About ... is not a substitute for the services of an attorney.