New Mexico uses a unique system of judicial selection for the state’s top courts (Supreme, Court of Appeals, District, and Metropolitan) that includes partisan elections. Under a proposal set for a hearing today in the Senate Rules Committee, the partisan portion would change to nonpartisan.
New Mexico uses a three-step process for these 4 courts under its constitution (Art. VI, Sec. 33)
- For initial terms all judicial vacancies are filled by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by a judicial nominating commission.
- The political parties then conduct primaries to pick candidates to face off at the next general election. The governor’s appointee is not guaranteed to win that primary.
- Whoever wins the partisan general election can obtain additional terms through yes/no retention elections, but there they must obtain at least a 57% yes vote (the original 1988 constitutional provision made it a simple majority; a 1994 amendment raised it).
SJR 10 as introduced would change the second step and require it be a nonpartisan contest.
Each justice of the supreme court, judge of the court of appeals, district judge or metropolitan court judge shall have been elected to that position in a partisan nonpartisan election process as provided by law prior to being eligible for a nonpartisan retention election.
A separate provision would ensure that any judge in office on January 1 after the constitutional amendment was approved would not be impacted by this change.
If a majority of the Senate and House approve the amendment, it would go on to the ballot in 2018.