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Council confirms Bassett to Supreme Court

State House Bureau

May 23. 2012 11:50AM

Concord attorney James Bassett has been confirmed as an associate justice on the N.H. Supreme Court. 

CONCORD - Citing his fairness and keen grasp of the state constitution, the Executive Council on Wednesday confirmed Jim Bassett to the state Supreme Court.

The Council voted 4-1 to support Bassett, a longtime lawyer who had argued several cases before the state's highest court concerning the separation of powers and other constitutional matters.

Bassett joins the five-member court as an associate justice, filling the vacant seat left when James Duggan retired in January.

Bassett, a Canterbury resident who has been active in local government, had enjoyed a mostly favorable reception since he was nominated by Democratic Gov. John Lynch earlier this month, including at his confirmation hearing last week before the all-Republican Council, where colleagues and civic leaders praised his legal acumen and fairness.

In the days before his confirmation, however, conservative groups took issue with some of Bassett's positions.

The New Hampshire Legal Rights Foundation, whose executive director is House Majority Leader D.J. Bettencourt, singled out Bassett's willingness to respect the Supreme Court's Claremont education funding decisions, which it said 'may be the worst example of judicial overreach in New Hampshire history.'

A gun rights group labeled Bassett a 'gun grabber' for his support for the Brady Law on gun control in 1994, when Bassett ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a moderate Republican.

Ahead of the vote on Wednesday, District 2 Councilor Daniel St. Hilaire and District 4 Councilor Ray Wieczorek said they received a number of calls and e-mails expressing concerns about Bassett, primarily about his position on the Second Amendment.

Both said that conversations with Bassett allayed these concerns.

'He is a strict constitutionalist,' St. Hilaire said. 'He derives his opinions from what the Constitution says.'

Wieczorek noted that Bassett had represented the gun maker Sturm, Ruger and Co. when it sought to open a firing range in Newport.

'I'm not going to recommend someone who's not going to defend the Second Amendment,' he said.

The lone no-vote came from District 5 Councilor David Wheeler.

'I know there's been no judicial conduct complaints, but I would come to a different conclusion on whether he's an activist judge or a strict constitutionalist," Wheeler said. "The fact he could support the Brady legislation, which poses severe restrictions on gun owners, and the fact that he'd abide by Claremont, that tells me he'd be an activist."

However, other councilors said that more important than any views Bassett had expressed was his fair-mindedness.

'When people appeal to the state Supreme Court, they should feel the scales justice are equal and will not sway one way or another,' said District 1 Councilor Ray Burton. 'I believe Jim Bassett will bring that level of understanding.'

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