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Lawmakers And Judiciary Want To Look At How Judges Are Appointed In New Mexico

The Legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee meets Monday at Roundhouse.
Kevin Meerschaert
State of New Mexico via Zoom
The Legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee meets Monday at Roundhouse.

Lawmakers at Roundhouse and the judiciary want to take a long look at the way Judges are appointed in New Mexico. The issue came up on Monday during the first meeting of the Legislative Courts, Corrections and Justice Interim Committee.

When a judge is first appointed they then have to compete in a partisan election to hold onto their seat and then participate in retention elections to stay on the bench.  State Supreme Court Justice David Thomson told lawmakers he finds that to be inherently uncomfortable, even though it does lead to a more open process and diverse judiciary.

Committee Chair Senator Cervantes agrees changes need to be made and he’s part of a commission that’s looking into it.

“The Chief Justice has impaneled a working group, that she’s asked me to be part of, to evaluate how we select judges,” he said. “This has been something that has been of great interest to me for probably the last five or six years. I don’t think it’s working. I think the way we select and retain judges isn’t working. This less session we even tried to look at crafting some constitutional language to change how we do that.”           

One of the major problems under the current system is that while a bipartisan commission screens candidates for the bench and then sends the names to the Governor who makes the appointment, with that appointee having then face an election, someone else could win who did not face a screening of their qualifications. 

The commission appointed by the Chief Justice is supposed to present its recommendations by November 1st.    

The committee will be meeting at various locations around the state for the next several months. The committee also talked about some of the issues it wants to tackle during the interim. Cervantes says since next year will only be a 30-day session, they’ll have a lot of work to do to get legislation ready.

Issues the CCJ Committee plans on discussing include the Children, Youth and Families Department, juvenile justice, parole reform, a review of New Mexico’s special courts, and police and justice reform.