The courts of our nation have been attacked. Wealthy special interest groups are bombarding state and federal court systems with waves of black and untraceable money, turning once sleepy opportunities for judicial selection into big-dollar deals. Their goal is clear: gain more influence over our justice system and stifle the voice of the public.
As we saw in the recent SCOTUS leak, state courts will be instrumental in determining rights that were once considered fundamental. Everything from abortion, same-sex marriage, segregation and our privacy rights could be transferred to the state level for decision. If there was ever any doubt that state courts are essential to our democracy, it made it clear that our state judges could now have the final say on the “freedom” of each of us.
As US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, recently put it, “Our Supreme Court is awash with influence from black money. The American people may not be able to see all the rot, but they can see enough to know something is rotten.
New Mexico has been an exception to this troubling trend, and we should maintain it. In the Land of Enchantment, we have decided that our judges should not be politicians and as such should not need to raise funds to be elected. In 2021, New Mexico became the first state in the nation to expand our Election Action Act (VAA) to include district court races – an achievement every New Mexican should be proud of.
With this change, Judicial Candidates, if they so choose, can now run campaigns that focus on their referrals rather than fundraising. We all believe that New Mexico courts should be staffed with qualified judges who represent the values of their communities. But too often, community candidates cannot afford to run. By removing barriers and allowing more New Mexicans to present themselves for judicial office, this VAA update helps make our courts more representative.
Our data already shows that the new program of voter-owned judicial elections is a success. Of the nine statewide judicial nominees running for office in 2022, all but one have applied to participate, and five district court nominees have already qualified for the program. This is great news for our courts.
Like sports referees, judges must appear impartial to preserve public confidence. Because voter-owned elections allow for independent campaigns, these justice contenders don’t have to worry about the optics of accepting money from groups that might find themselves before them in a courtroom. . This means fewer potential conflicts of interest and a justice system for everyone, not just contributors. After all, the only way to have fair and impartial courts is to have fair judicial elections.
State judges can have the final say on critical issues such as education funding, access to health care and the ballot box, worker protections, and (others that affect) our daily lives. With so much at stake, it is essential that New Mexicans have confidence in their courts. Voter-owned judicial elections are an important step in realizing that trust.
Common Cause New Mexico is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to restoring the core values of American democracy, reinventing open, honest, and accountable government, and empowering ordinary people to have their voices heard in the political process.