Federal judge to rehear NH challenge to in-person legislative sessions

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Updated: Jun. 2, 2021 at 11:11 AM EDT
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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - A federal appeals court says it will rehear the case involving a challenge to holding in-person legislative sessions without a remote option in New Hampshire during the coronavirus pandemic, and it’s invited U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to weigh in.

Earlier this year, seven Democratic lawmakers sued House Speaker Sherman Packard, a Republican, arguing that not allowing a remote option violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the state and federal constitutions, and forces them to either risk their lives or abandon their duties as elected officials.

A federal judge in Concord ruled in Packard’s favor. But the Boston-based 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in April to send the case back to the judge to hold further proceedings to determine if the plaintiffs are “persons with disabilities within the meaning” of the ADA or the federal Rehabilitation Act.

The appeals court changed its mind after the New Hampshire attorney general’s office, which is representing Packard, asked for a rehearing. The office had argued that the 1st Circuit did away with legislative immunity in the case “on the broad swath of potential claims arising under the ADA or Rehabilitation Act.”

The appeals court scheduled the rehearing for Sept. 10. It wrote to Garland, saying “given the complexity of this case,” it asked for the federal government’s views on legislative immunity, exceptions to it, and how it might apply to the plaintiffs’ request. Garland’s office has been asked to respond by June 28.

The House is scheduled to meet in person on Thursday and Friday.

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