Articles Posted in Civil Rights

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Petitioner League of Women Voters of New Mexico sought a writ of mandamus directing Respondent Advisory Committee to the New Mexico Compilation Commission, to effectuate the compilation of three constitutional amendments to the so-called “unamendable section” of the New Mexico Constitution. Article VII, Sections 1 and 3 of the New Mexico Constitution set forth the elective franchise; the two provisions work in tandem to establish and guarantee the right to vote. Section 1, among other things, identifies who is qualified to vote; and Section 3 protects the right from being “restricted, abridged or impaired on account of religion, race, language or color, or inability to speak, read or write the English or Spanish 9 languages . . . .” To protect the elective franchise even further, the framers declared in two separate constitutional provisions that Article VII, Sections 1 and 3 “shall never be 12 amended except upon a vote of the people of this state in an election at which at least three-fourths of the electors voting in the whole state . . . shall vote for such amendment.” The proposed amendments to Article VII, Section 1 were submitted to the electorate in 2008, 2010, and 2014, and each received more than a majority, but less than a three-fourths super-majority, of the vote. The Compilation Commission did not compile the amendments into the Constitution. Petitioner asked the New Mexico Supreme Court to clarify that under a separate constitutional provision, the 2008, 2010, and 2014 amendments required the approval of only a simple majority of the voters. Respondent took no position on the merits of the question presented, but asked that the Court deny the petition on the grounds that Respondent was not a proper party. After full briefing by the parties and by numerous amici curiae and after hearing oral arguments, the Supreme Court granted the petition and issued a writ of mandamus as requested by Petitioner. View "New Mexico ex rel. League of Women Voters v. Advisory Comm. to the N.M. Compilation Comm'n" on Justia Law

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Attorney Daniel Faber filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three assistant attorneys who alleged alleging gender discrimination in connection with their salaries. The Attorney General filed a motion to stay litigation pending resolution of his motion to dismiss the complaint based on an immunity defense. The federal district court entered a memorandum opinion and order granting the Attorney General’s motion to stay all proceedings, including discovery; the stay was lifted a few months later. Prior to lifting of the stay, Faber filed an Inspection of Public Records Act (IPRA) request in his own name seeking employment data for every attorney who had been employed by the Attorney General’s Office since January 1987. The records custodian of the Attorney General’s Office denied the IPRA request, stating that “[t]his request is being denied as these records involve a current lawsuit and appear to circumvent the discovery process and the current Order Staying Discovery (attached).” Faber filed a complaint for damages and a petition for writ of mandamus in the state district court against the Attorney General alleging that his IPRA request had been wrongfully denied. The state district court found that the stay of discovery entered by the federal court did not preempt the statutory rights granted to New Mexico citizens by IPRA, and that the Attorney General violated IPRA by denying Faber’s request. The court also issued a writ of mandamus ordering the Attorney General to comply and ruled that damages would be considered at a later date. Faber subsequently moved for an award of damages. The state district court awarded damages of $10 per day from the date of the wrongful denial to the date the stay was lifted and thereafter “damages of $100 per day until the records are provided,” and $257.19 in costs to Faber. The Attorney General appealed the state district court’s award of damages. The determination of the IPRA violation was not at issue on appeal. The issue in this case focused on what type of damages were authorized by the Legislature in Section 14-2-13 12(D). The Supreme Court held that Section 14-2-12(D) permitted compensatory or actual damages because the plain language, purpose, and history of IPRA indicated that neither punitive nor statutory damages were intended by the Legislature. The Court also held that Faber was not eligible for nominal damages. View "Farber v. King" on Justia Law

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"Prohibiting same-gender marriages is not substantially related to the governmental interests advanced by the parties opposing same-gender marriage or to the purposes [the New Mexico Supreme Court has] identified. Therefore, barring individuals from marrying and depriving them of the rights, protections, and responsibilities of civil marriage solely because of their sexual orientation violates the Equal Protection Clause under Article II, Section 18 of the New Mexico Constitution. [The Court held] that the State of New Mexico is constitutionally required to allow same-gender couples to marry and must extend to them the rights, protections, and responsibilities that derive from civil marriage under New Mexico law." View "Griego v. Oliver" on Justia Law

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Elane Photography offers wedding photography to the general public, and posts its photographs on a password protected website for its customers. In this case, Elane refused to photograph a commitment ceremony between two women. The issues on appeal were: (1) whether application of the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA) was violated by Elane when it refused to take the photographs; (2) whether application of the NMHRA violates either the Free Speech or the Free Exercise Clause of the federal constitution; or (3) whether this application violates the New Mexico Religious Freedom Restoration Act (NMRFRA). Upon careful consideration, the Supreme Court concluded that when Elane refused to photograph the commitment ceremony, it violated the NMHRA. Furthermore, the Court concluded that the NMHRA does not violate the free speech guarantees because there is no government-mandated message or the publication of the speech of another. Finally, the Court held that the NMRFRA did not apply in this case. View "Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock" on Justia Law

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This case concerned the scope of absolute privilege that grants immunity to litigants and their attorneys from being sued for defamation based on public statements they make about a judicial proceedings either before or after the proceeding is filed. Specifically, the issues before the Supreme Court in this case were: (1) whether pre-litigation statements made by an attorney to prospective clients in the presence of the press regarding a potential mass-tort lawsuit; and (2) whether statements made directly to the press by an attorney or party after such lawsuit was filed, are absolutely privileged, thus barring any lawsuit for defamation. The district court found in the affirmative on these issues and granted summary judgment to the defendants. The Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that absolute privilege did not apply to statements made before or after a complaint was filed when the statements were made before the press. Upon review, the Supreme Court held that absolute privilege indeed does apply to pre-litigation statements made by attorneys in the presence of the press if (1) the speaker is seriously and in good faith contemplating a lawsuit at the time the statement was made; (2) the statement is reasonably related to the proposed litigation; (3) the attorney has a client or identifiable prospective clients at the time the statement was made; and (4) the statement is made while the attorney is acting in the capacity of counsel or prospective counsel. View "Helena Chemical Co. v. Uribe" on Justia Law

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This issue before the Supreme Court in this case was the appointment of the New Mexico House of Representatives following the 2010 federal census. It was undisputed that the House was unconstitutionally apportioned. The Legislature then passed House Bill 39 to reapportion the House during a 2011 Special Session. The Governor vetoed the bill. Because lawmakers failed to create constitutionally-acceptable districts, the burden fell on the courts to draw a reapportionment map for the House. The Court appointed a retired district judge to oversee the judiciary's process. Petitioners filed petitions for a writ of superintending control to ask the Supreme Court to take jurisdiction over the case, and to reverse the district court to adopt an alternative plan or remand the case with instructions regarding the legal standard that should be applied. After reading the parties' briefs and listening to oral argument, the Court entered an order articulating the legal principles that should govern redistricting litigation in New Mexico and remanded the case to the district court for further proceedings. View "Maestas v. Hall" on Justia Law