New Mexico: Hearing today on ending partisan elections for state’s top courts

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)

  1. For initial terms all judicial vacancies are filled by the governor from a list of candidates recommended by a judicial nominating commission.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.