April 7, 2021

Guv signs New Mexico Civil Rights Act into law, ends qualified immunity

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the New Mexico Civil Rights Act, which ends qualified immunity as a legal defense, into law on Wednesday.

Advocates have said the law will bring greater equity to New Mexico as it also enables individuals whose state constitutional rights have been violated to bring a civil suit seeking financial remedy.

The new law caps the remedy at $2 million and no case can be brought over an incident that occurred before the start date – July 1, 2021 – of the new law. Recoverability of attorney’s fees is possible but subject to the court’s discretion.

The original bill, HB 4, came out of recommendations made in a report written by the New Mexico Civil Rights Commission in late 2020. The 2020 special session Legislature and Lujan Grisham authorized the commission in response to the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd.

The lead sponsor, Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, said through a statement that the law is about “ensuring equality and justice for all New Mexicans, no matter their race or background.”

“By making our state agencies accountable for their actions, we build trust between them and our communities, and create a fairer state for everyone,” Louis, a member of the Acoma Pueblo, said.

New Mexico is the second state to pass a measure that ends qualified immunity, after  Colorado, according to the Campaign to End Qualified Immunity.

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico, which supported the bill along with other organizations, called the law “historic” in a statement.

Lujan Grisham said that when constitutional rights are violated, the victims are all too often people of color.

“In response to some of the commentary surrounding this measure, I will say: This is not an anti-police bill. This bill does not endanger any first responder or public servant – so long as they conduct themselves professionally within the bounds of our constitution and with a deep and active respect for the sacred rights it guarantees all of us as New Mexicans,” Lujan Grisham said through a statement.