The History of the Court
The history of the courts in New Hampshire begins in 1776 shortly after the colony of New Hampshire adopted a temporary constitution, the first such constitution adopted by any of the states. The newly formed legislature abolished the court of appeals, which was made up of the governor and council, and established the "Superior Court of Judicature" as the appellate court, with four justices. One hundred years later, in 1876, an act was passed creating the "Supreme Court" as New Hampshire’s highest court.
What is now the modern trial and appellate court system in New Hampshire took shape in 1901 when the legislature established two courts to take the place of the existing Supreme Court. Jurisdiction over "law terms" during which court decisions were appealed, was given to the Supreme Court, made up of a chief justice and four associate justices. Matters formerly handled at "trial terms" were given to what was called the "Superior Court." The advantage was a separate appeals court, of which the trial judge was not a member.
In 1966, the State Constitution was amended to establish the Supreme Court and the Superior Court as constitutional courts, which means that they could only be changed or abolished by a constitutional amendment, not by the legislature.
A "unified court system" was established by law in 1971, making the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court responsible for the efficient operation of all the courts in New Hampshire.
The law states the Supreme Court Chief Justice will have the advice and consent of the Chief Justice of the Superior Court. They are both required to seek cooperation from others interested in the administration of justice including other justices and judges, court clerks, the court accreditation committee, the state and local bar associations, and the judicial council.
The 24-member judicial council is an ongoing, independent forum for consideration and discussion of issues involving the administration of justice.
In 1978, the voters amended the constitution to make the Chief Justice the administrative head of the courts. That amendment said that rules regarding the administration of the courts and practice and procedure in the courts would be approved by the Chief Justice with the concurrence of a majority of the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.
In 1983, the State legislature consolidated funding for all the State courts into the State's biennial budget. Previously the Superior and Probate Courts were funded by the counties and the District Courts by the cities and towns in which they were located. See Administration of the Court System.
That 1983 legislation also established the Office of Administrative Services (now known as the Administrative Office of the Courts) which consolidated functions such as personnel, accounting, technology and budgeting into one central office for the Judicial Branch.
Much of the history of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, as recounted here, can be found in "History of the Supreme Court and the Judicial System of New Hampshire," West's New Hampshire Digest, 1951 version of Vol. 3, (Boston, Mass.: Boston Law Book Co.) pp. IX-XIV.
The Members of the Court
The Supreme Court of New Hampshire consists of the Chief Justice and four Associate Justices. Members of the Supreme Court are nominated by the Governor and confirmed by the Executive Council to lifetime terms or until age seventy.
The Supreme Court building, located at One Charles Doe Drive in Concord, was dedicated in September 1970 at a ceremony attended by the late Chief Justice of the United States, Earl Warren.
Modeled in the colonial Williamsburg style, the building houses the chambers of the members of the Supreme Court, staff offices, the clerk’s office, the New Hampshire Law Library and the courtroom where the justices hear oral arguments. Portraits of the Chief Justices hang in the courtroom, which has a working fireplace. The red brick building, faced with New Hampshire granite, was named for Frank Rowe Kenison, who served as Chief Justice for 25 years.