March 7, 2022

NM Supreme Court rules citizen grand juries on state emergency orders are invalid

Kit Leong/Shutterstock

New Mexico State Supreme Court

The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a handful of citizen-initiated grand jury petitions filed against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in response to her public emergency orders are “facially invalid.” 

In the order directing several lower courts to dismiss the citizen-initiated grand jury petitions, Chief Justice Michael Vigil wrote that the state’s mechanism that allows citizens to call for a grand jury for public officials who violate state law does not apply to the governor’s COVID-19 public health orders. 

“This Court previously has held that [Lujan Grisham] acted lawfully and within the scope of her executive authority when she declared a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic and delegated power to the Secretary of Health to issue further emergency orders to protect public health and safety,” Vigil wrote. 

The order instructed lower courts to deny such grand jury petitions as they “only describe lawful, noncriminal activity.”  

The New Mexico Constitution allows citizens to file petitions asking a state district court to convene a grand jury to look into possible criminal activity of an elected official.

In the order, the state supreme court also asked a judicial committee to consider rule changes that would make the citizen grand jury process more transparent as the current process involves sealed and confidential proceedings.

Lujan Grisham’s office filed the supreme court petition last fall, asking justices to weigh in on the validity of the handful of grand jury petitions filed in state district courts aiming to investigate alleged criminal actions in issuing the public health orders. Since Lujan Grisham started issuing emergency public health orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, several state supreme court petitions have been filed challenging those orders. The New Mexico Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the governor in all of the cases they have issued opinions on.