Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in New Mexico Supreme Court
Garcia v. Hatch Valley Pub. Schs.
Plaintiff Natalie Garcia (née Watkins), sued her former employer, Defendant Hatch Valley Public Schools (HVPS), for employment discrimination under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA). Plaintiff alleged that HVPS terminated her employment as a school bus driver based on her national origin, which she described as “German” and “NOT Hispanic.” HVPS successfully moved for summary judgment in the district court, and the Court of Appeals reversed, focusing on Plaintiff’s “primary contention” that HVPS had discriminated against her and terminated her employment because she was not Hispanic. The New Mexico Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals, holding that summary judgment in HVPS' favor was appropriate because Plaintiff failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination and failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact about whether HVPS’ asserted reason for terminating her employment was pretextual. In so holding, the Court also concluded: (1) the Court of Appeals properly focused on Plaintiff’s contention that she was not Hispanic in analyzing her discrimination claim; (2) Plaintiff could claim discrimination under the NMHRA as a non-Hispanic; and (3) the plain language of the NMHRA did not place a heightened evidentiary burden on a plaintiff in a "reverse" discrimination case. View "Garcia v. Hatch Valley Pub. Schs." on Justia Law
New Mexico ex rel. League of Women Voters v. Advisory Comm. to the N.M. Compilation Comm’n
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
Griego v. Oliver
"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
Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock
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
Helena Chemical Co. v. Uribe
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.
Maestas v. Hall
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.