New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon approaches the lectern in the state house chamber to deliver the State of the Judiciary address to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature Tuesday, January 24, 2022.

Supreme Court Chief Justice talks virtual hearings, criminal justice reform

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Shannon Bacon addressed the Legislature during a joint legislative session on Tuesday. This was the first time in four years a State of the Judiciary Address has been delivered in New Mexico. “The Judiciary is battered and bruised, strong, resilient, creative, committed, and caring. I hope through my words today, this will be evident,” Bacon said. Bacon discussed four issues including the judiciary’s efforts through the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting programs that help the community, criminal justice reform and the judiciary’s legislative requests.

No decision yet after NM Supreme Court hears redistricting case oral arguments

Oral arguments in the case that claimed Republicans were gerrymandered out of a congressional seat during the recent redistricting cycle went in front of the state Supreme Court Monday. The Republican Party of New Mexico and others filed the case against the State of New Mexico. Ninth Judicial District Judge Fred van Soelen filed a verified writ of superintending control against the state, prompting the high court to take the case. Both sides presented their cases to the state’s high court which adjourned shortly after the hearing without making a decision. “This is an issue of significant importance and we want to be deliberative,” Bacon said.” And because there is a stay in place and we’re a little ways out from the next electoral process, we don’t feel the need to act as quickly as we might otherwise.

A "Vote Here" sign at the Otero County Fairgrounds in Alamogordo.

2022 General Election certified, two recounts upcoming

The New Mexico State Canvassing Board certified the 2022 General Election at their Nov. 29 meeting. The election results were certified after a third-party auditor declared no findings and the election results were sent to the canvassing board for certification. “Our office worked closely with our county clerks across the state of both political parties to ensure we all had the information and the tools necessary to conduct a successful election,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver said. “This was absolutely a team effort.”

The Nov.

State Supreme Court dismisses Couy Griffin appeal over removal from office

The New Mexico Supreme Court denied an appeal from former Otero County Commissioner Couy Griffin in the case that removed him from office based on his actions during the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection. The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Griffin failed to file a statement of issues within 30 days of his notice of appeal. By state statute, this failure is grounds for the case’s dismissal. “This is an affirmation that Section 3 of the 14th Amendment can and should be enforced against all the January 6th insurrectionists who took an oath to defend the Constitution, whether they are current or former officeholders.

NM Supreme Court presses pause on rate credits for PNM customers

Customers of the state’s largest electric utility will continue paying the same rate they were paying when the San Juan Generating Station was operating—at least for now. Earlier this year, the New Mexico Public Regulation Commission ordered Public Service Company of New Mexico to issue rate credits to prevent customers from paying for the operations of a now-closed coal-fired power plant that customers no longer benefit from. PNM promptly appealed this order to the New Mexico Supreme Court and asked the court to stay the implementation of the rate credits until after the case is resolved. On Tuesday, the court granted this stay. That means customers will only see the rate credits if the state Supreme Court rules in favor of the state regulatory commission. 

Mariel Nanasi, the executive director of New Energy Economy and one of PNM’s more vocal critics, expressed disappointment with Tuesday’s decision.

Use it or lose it: NM Supreme Court rules unused water rights can be lost even if some of the water is used

New Mexicans who do not use all of their groundwater rights for a certain length of time can lose the rights to the unused portion, according to a new ruling out of the state Supreme Court. A well that once provided water to steam engines on a bustling railroad in the now-defunct railroad and mining town of Cutter, located in Sierra County near Truth or Consequences, ceased operations. Since then, only three acre-feet of water per year has been used and the water rights have been transferred to a new owner. This water came from a well built to supply the railroad and livestock. Cutter dates back to the late 1800s when it formed as a mining community.

NM Supreme Court issues written opinion in stream access case

The New Mexico Supreme Court on Thursday issued a written opinion regarding public access to river and stream beds that explained the court’s reasoning for a decision from the bench earlier this year. 

In March, the supreme court issued a ruling from the bench, after a brief deliberation, that river and stream beds are just as public as the water above them. On Thursday, in an opinion written by New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Vigil, the court further explained its unanimous decision.     

“The question here is whether the right to recreate and fish in public water also allows the public the right to touch the privately owned beds below those waters,” Vigil wrote. “We conclude that it does.”

The high court stressed that “the public’s easement includes only such use as is reasonably necessary to the utilization of the water itself and any use of the beds and banks must be of minimal impact.”

“Walking and wading on the privately owned beds beneath public water is reasonably necessary for the enjoyment of many forms of fishing and recreation,” Vigil wrote. “Having said that, we stress that the public may neither trespass on privately owned land to access public water, nor trespass on privately owned land from public water.”

The state supreme court’s opinion also stated that not only was it unconstitutional to bar wading or fishing in streams and rivers with privately owned beds, but that it was also unconstitutional for the New Mexico State Game Commission to issue regulations barring those activities on privately owned river beds. 

The Game Commission has since repealed the rule that allowed people to petition to have sections of water that flowed through their property closed to public access. “We conclude not only that the Regulations are unconstitutional, but also that the Commission lacked the authority to promulgate the Regulations,” Vigil wrote. 

The legal battle goes back to 2015 when the New Mexico Legislature enacted a new section of existing law that prohibited access to privately owned river beds within non-navigable waters. That law change spurred a handful of environment and outdoor recreation groups to file a writ of mandamus, or a request for the court to intervene.

NM Supreme Court upholds dismissal of case involving COVID-19 conditions in prisons

The New Mexico Supreme Court today on Thursday issued a written opinion that upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a lawsuit aimed at the state’s correctional department over the release of inmates during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In the opinion, New Mexico Supreme Court Justice Michael Vigil wrote that a Santa Fe District Court judge was right to dismiss a lawsuit against the state that sought to release inmates as a precaution against COVID-19 outbreaks in state correctional facilities. The lower court judge dismissed the case on the grounds that the plaintiffs, who were eight inmates, the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, did not first exhaust all administrative appeal options before filing the suit. Vigil wrote that a “balance must be struck” that allows the New Mexico Corrections Department to address concerns through a grievance process but does not overburden the department. 

“We cannot say that the entire inmate population of New Mexico may be considered to have exhausted administrative remedies simply because some unnamed class member/inmate tried to file a grievance,” Vigil wrote. “Similarly, we cannot say that the nearly 6,000 inmates must each individually show they have exhausted administrative remedies. Such a requirement for all class members could unduly burden the prison’s complaint system and delay resolution of grievances.” 

The original suit asked the court to order the Corrections Department to lessen the population in state correctional facilities and to take further steps to protect inmates from COVID-19 by providing masks and testing and to better isolate inmates who became infected. 

The high court also ruled that the administrative appeal requirement in cases like this is “satisfied as to an entire plaintiff class when one or more named class members have exhausted administrative remedies for each claim raised by the class,” but the court also noted that none of the plaintiffs in the case filed an administrative appeal with the Department of Corrections.

Guv and AG file motion to dismiss lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s legal abortion status

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a motion on Thursday to dismiss a lawsuit challenging New Mexico’s legal abortion status. Filed in the Fifth Judicial District Court in Chaves County in late June by state Sen. David Gallegos, R-Eunice, Roswell-based write-in Independent candidate for New Mexico Commissioner of Public Lands Larry Marker and Albuquerque-based former Republican primary candidate for Governor Ethel Maharg, the original suit challenged the fact that New Mexico legislature’s repeal of the state’s 1969 anti-abortion law allows legal abortion across the state. “Simply stated, no law, act or statute exists that allows for or legalizes abortion procedures in the state of New Mexico,” the lawsuit stated. Abortion remains legal in the state of New Mexico because the 2021 Legislature repealed the 1969 law that banned abortion, criminalizing it with few exceptions. Lujan Grisham signed the Respect New Mexico Women and Families Act in February 2021, before the legislature ended its session.

End of moratorium on evictions could lead to crisis, say family advocates

With the New Mexico Supreme Court’s pandemic-era inspired moratorium on evictions about to end, the court announced it will phase-in a statewide program to help tenants access money starting in April. But family advocates have said that approximately 80,000 renter households are at risk in the state for eviction. Divya Shiv, a research and policy analyst for New Mexico Voices for Children, told NM Political Report that the 43 percent of residents in the state reporting a high likelihood of eviction or foreclosure because they are not current on their rent or mortgage is higher than the national average, which is 35 percent. With the moratorium ending on evictions for tenants with unpaid rent, this could lead to a crisis of unhoused families in New Mexico, Shiv said. “Evictions are really harmful and it’s incredibly destabilizing for families and children,” she said.