Current state restrictions, and more looming, due to the emergence of COVID-19 in New Mexico raises the question for some people: Is this legal? Since Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared an emergency earlier this month, she has ordered purchasing restrictions, limited group gatherings and ordered restaurants to limit service to take-out only.
While at least one New Mexico scholar and the New Mexico American Civil Liberties Union agree that the governor’s actions can be justified, an Albuquerque attorney does not and has said he is working towards challenging the order in court.
Matthew Simpson, who teaches political theory at the University of New Mexico, said there’s a balance in U.S. government between public safety and personal freedoms, and in times of crisis, safety usually wins.
“The measures that might be best for promoting people’s well being isn’t really compatible with maximizing their liberties and so government officials have to try to balance those two and have to weigh them against each other,” Simpson said. “I think at the end of the day protection of life has to take precedence, and usually does take precedence, over the protections of liberty, just because you can’t have liberty if you’re not alive.”
Simpson added that even though New Mexicans are currently restricted from physically gathering in groups of more than ten, their right to assemble is arguably not being violated. “The government isn’t saying you can’t talk to people about your common concerns, they’re just saying you can’t engage in these behaviors that are going to be vectors for this deadly disease,” Simpson said.
But that doesn’t mean putting public safety above rights always works out, he said. The Supreme Court sided with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when faced with whether U.S. Japanese internment camps during World War II violated personal rights.
“I think with the benefit of hindsight, almost everybody thinks that that was just a fundamental violation of rights,” Simpson said.