Lawsuit challenges Sununu's emergency powers to deal with COVID-19

A group of activists is challenging in court the right of Gov. Chris Sununu to ban large gatherings due to the novel coronavirus. A Merrimack County Superior Court judge will hold a preliminary hearing on that complaint Friday morning. Here, Dr. Benjamin Chan, state epidemiologist, discussed the coronavirus outbreak and rising number of cases of COVID-19 with Sununu during a news conference at the Department of Safety.

CONCORD — A group of political and religious activists has filed a court challenge to Gov. Chris Sununu’s order to restrict the size of public gatherings because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The suit asks a Merrimack County Superior Court judge to issue an injunction against the ban on community meetings of more than 50. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday morning.

“To be clear, of course we do not wish the spread of COVID-19,” said Dan Hynes of Manchester, the lawyer representing the three people who brought the suit.

“However, the government should not be acting in an unconstitutional manner in order to possibly address their concerns.”

In the court filing, Hynes said Sununu has every legal right to advise citizens not to gather in large crowds, but he said that mandating this behavior runs afoul of constitutional protections.

“If the governor amends his ‘order’ to be advisory, or a recommendation, plaintiffs will drop the lawsuit as moot,” the suit said.

Attorney General Gordon J. MacDonald’s office has defended the legality of the governor’s executive order.

The plaintiffs are David W. Binford, a former Republican state legislator from Bath, and Eric Couture and Holly Rae Beene, both of Manchester.

The lawsuit said Binford intends to attend several political events in the coming weeks in Grafton County.

Couture attends services three times a week at Bible Baptist Church in Nashua and teaches Sunday school to teens at the church, the lawsuit said.

“Anyone can choose not to exercise their God-given unalienable rights,” Couture said. “We can choose not to assemble if that is our desire. What cannot occur is one man in a position of power deciding to strip us of our rights in the name of safety and without due process.”

Beene said the bans have restricted her ability to visit local restaurants.

“The consequences of this government overreach will be absolutely devastating to local businesses, cause artificially inflated unemployment and paralyze the NH economy,” Beene said in a statement.

The suit maintains the ban violates the state Constitution’s protection of the right to assembly and the right of free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“If the governor has unilateral authority to declare anything an emergency, and take action to effectively revoke constitutional rights, we no longer live in a constitutional republic,” Hynes said.

Monday, July 06, 2020