NEW MEXICANS DESERVE FAIR COURTS
The ultimate vision for a healthy, functioning, and fair judiciary is multifaceted and includes:
- A fully participating, informed electorate in judicial elections
- Judges across the bench who reflect diverse communities across the state
- Black, indigenous and people of color not being incarcerated at an alarming rate
- Attorneys and judges who serve the public and not campaign donors
- Laws that reflect and respect all New Mexicans
How do we achieve this vision? Through commonsense reforms such as:
- Public financing of judicial campaigns to allow more candidates to run and reduce real and perceived conflicts of interest
- Increased pay for judges to attract the best pool of candidates
- Reduce the overall number of people in the criminal justice system (diversion programs, bail reform, etc.)
- Strong disclosure laws, locally and statewide
- Increase access to justice by introducing “plain language” law and other reforms that help people representing themselves
PUBLIC FINANCING OF JUDICIAL RACES
We advocated and worked to expand judicial campaign public financing to include not only the state Supreme and Appellate courts, but District Court races as well, making New Mexico the first state in the nation to do so. By allowing qualifying judicial candidates to utilize the Voter Action Act to fund their campaigns, rather than dialing for dollars, judges are empowered to focus their time on their case dockets.
As the costs of election campaigns continue to increase, candidates are required to raise so much money that running for office is prohibitive for many well-qualified New Mexicans. This includes candidates running for elected judicial positions, and it often precludes a more diverse set of candidates who are women, community members of color and younger New Mexicans.
Particularly for a state like New Mexico with a majority BIPOC population, it is crucial we have a reflective and representative court system. Unfortunately, we continue to lack representation from marginalized communities in the courtroom and at all levels of the judiciary. Public financing will provide a pathway to close that gap.
Candidates who run privately financed are often obligated to their biggest donors. The overwhelming influence of money in politics, especially in courts, affects all New Mexicans. Their voices are drowned out by those who can write much larger campaign checks, decisions are made by the wealthy and well-connected, and diverse communities are excluded from opportunities to be part of the process. The influence of money in courts most egregiously impedes the judiciary from remaining fair and impartial, creating real and perceived conflicts of interest.
Alongside providing a public financing option for District Court campaigns, we also worked to pass legislation to stagger judicial terms. In staggering these races, New Mexicans can be assured there are adequate funds available in the Voter Action Act since fewer campaigns are tapping into the fund at once. Additionally, this reform keeps ballots shorter and more manageable, making it easier for voters to research the candidates running.
Our Fair Courts campaign began as a public education and awareness project. We recognized a void of broad public education about our hybrid judicial-selection system, and especially lacking in our communities of color, including our tribal communities in New Mexico. As with many other states, New Mexico’s data consistently shows a lack of civic participation and knowledge about our judicial candidates and elections.
We began working with Native American communities to address specific inequities in their access to the ballot, information about judicial candidates on tribal lands, and an overall education campaign within our fair courts framework. We also educated communities about the importance of keeping our courts independent from other branches of government, not subject to improper influence from either private or partisan interests in their elections.
We are deepening and broadening our community outreach and public education to help everyday New Mexicans across the state better understand the court system as a whole, the process of judicial election and selection, and encourage their active and engaged participation.
Furthermore, CCNM is working to increase public participation in judicial nominating commissions. In New Mexico, citizens can join these commissions but there is little outreach done to encourage communities of interest to apply and participate. In order to have a diverse and fair judiciary, we believe it is critical that the nominating commissions are truly representative of our population and must include young people, women, citizens of color and more. Each of the 33 New Mexico counties has their own specific process, and we will conduct outreach campaigns across the state to engage citizens.
New Mexicans deserve free and equal access to justice and an impartial court system. The foundation of that work must address racial inequity among three key components: access to our courts (public education and participation), lack of representation on the bench (judicial diversity), and equity in the judiciary (public financing and access to nominating commissions).
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