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State ex rel. Sugg v. Oliver

Supreme Court of New Mexico

December 19, 2019

STATE OF NEW MEXICO ex rel., JOHN P. SUGG, DIANNA LUCE, FRANCESCA MARTINEZ-ESTEVEZ, CLINT WELLBORN, DONALD GALLEGOS, ANDREA REEB, PAULA PAKKALA, and LEMUEL L. MARTINEZ, Petitioners,
v.
MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER, Secretary of State for the State of New Mexico, Respondent. STATE OF NEW MEXICO ex rel., HON. MARY MARLOWE SOMMER, HON. NANCY JEAN FRANCHINI, HON. CONRAD FREDERICK PEREA, HON. ABIGAIL ARAGON, HON. WILLIAM G.W. SHOOBRIDGE, HON. JENNIFER E. DELANEY, HON. SHANNON MURDOCK, HON. JEFF MCELROY, HON. FRED TRAVIS VAN SOELEN, HON. ALBERT J. MITCHELL, JR., HON. DAYLENE MARSH, HON. DANIEL A. BRYANT, HON. CINDY M. MERCER, As New Mexico State District Court Judges and Citizens of New Mexico, DISTRICT METROPOLITAN COURT JUDGES' ASSOCIATION, INC., HON. VICTOR EDMUND VALDEZ, As a Metropolitan Court Judge and Citizen of the State of New Mexico, Petitioners,
v.
MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER, Secretary of State for the State of New Mexico, Respondent. STATE OF NEW MEXICO ex. Rel., NEW MEXICO ASSOCIATION OF COUNTIES, MARK CAGE and BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF THE COUNTY OF OTERO, Petitioners,
v.
MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER, Secretary of State for the State of New Mexico, Respondent.

          ORIGINAL PROCEEDING.

          John P. Sugg, Assistant District Attorney Alamogordo, NM for Petitioners.

          Hector H. Balderas, Attorney General Olga Serafimova, Assistant Attorney General Santa Fe, NM for Respondent.

          InAccord, P.C. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto Albuquerque, NM Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo & Kyle, P.C. Linda May Trujillo Albuquerque, NM for Amicus Curiae Legislative Sponsors and The Vargas Law Firm, LLC Ray M. Vargas, II Albuquerque, NM for Petitioners.

          InAccord, P.C. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto Albuquerque, NM Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo & Kyle, P.C. Linda May Trujillo Albuquerque, NM for Amicus Curiae Legislative Sponsors and New Mexico Association of Counties Steven Kopelman Grace Philips Patrick F. Trujillo Santa Fe, NM for Petitioners.

          InAccord, P.C. Daniel A. Ivey-Soto Albuquerque, NM Walsh Gallegos Trevino Russo & Kyle, P.C. Linda May Trujillo Albuquerque, NM for Amicus Curiae Legislative Sponsors.

          OPINION

          Barbara J. Vigil, Justice.

         {¶1} These separate, but related mandamus proceedings challenge the constitutionality of House Bill 407 (HB 407), 54th Leg., 1st Sess. (N.M. 2019), to the extent it postpones the times of election and extends the terms of certain public offices. 2019 N.M. Laws, ch. 212. Petitioners are among the class of public officers who would be affected by the election deferral provisions of HB 407; the petitioning groups represent district attorneys, district and metropolitan court judges, and county public officers. Petitioners' arguments, though variously framed, each turn in part upon the premise that HB 407 is unconstitutional insofar as it purports to extend their constitutionally mandated terms of office. This Court assumed original jurisdiction over the petitions under Article VI, Section 3 of the New Mexico Constitution. Concluding that the application of HB 407 would result in an unconstitutional alteration to the terms of office of all three petitioning groups, we issued writs of mandamus in each case directing Respondent, as Secretary of State (the Secretary), to refrain from implementing the affected provisions. In this opinion, we explain the reasoning and rationale underlying our issuance of writs of mandamus.

         I. STATUTORY BACKDROP

         {¶2} The enactment of HB 407 accomplished a major overhaul of this state's Election Code, NMSA 1978 §§ 1-1-1 to -26 (1969, as amended through 2019). The challenged provisions of HB 407 were motivated by what its legislative sponsors (the Sponsors) describe in their amicus briefs as an intent "to standardize the election dates for certain [county] offices[, ]" "level" or "balance out the number of county officers on the ballot in any given election year," and "stagger the retention [elections]" of district and metropolitan court judges. To this end, the Legislature brought about what the Sponsors characterize as a "one-time realignment" of the ballot and term provisions governing certain elected offices.

         {¶3} With respect to the petitioning judges and county officers, the Legislature devised different two-tiered frameworks to effectuate its intended "staggered" election and "leveled" ballot goals. As to the county offices, the Legislature repealed the then existing version of NMSA 1978, Section 1-10-8 (2015), in favor of a new version of the statute. Subsection (A) of the amended version of Section 1-10-8 (2019) specifies the county clerk, county treasurer, and "county commission districts and positions with odd-numbered designations" as among the elected offices to be voted on in presidential election years, 2019 N.M. Laws, ch. 212, § 103(A)(13)-(15), while subsection (B) specifies the county sheriff, county assessor, probate judge, and "county commission districts and positions with even-numbered designations" as among the elected offices required to be on the ballot in gubernatorial election years. Id. § 103(B)(20)-(23). In tandem with the amendments made to NMSA 1978, Section 1-10-8, the Legislature also enacted a temporary provision designed to extend the terms of county offices as follows:

The secretary of state shall provide a process to renumber district numbers so that offices are aligned with the offices listed for election in Section 1-10-8 NMSA 1978 and, where necessary, shall provide for an extended term to the general election in 2022 or 2024 only as required to align offices and positions to the offices listed for election in Section 1-10-8 NMRA 1978; provided that where one member of a local governing body must receive an extended term pursuant to this section, the secretary of state shall have the members whose terms expire the same year draw lots to make the determination.

2019 N.M. Laws, ch. 212, § 281 (emphasis added). Thus, HB 407, by express terms, calls for the postponement of elections for certain county offices in 2020, while expressly "extend[ing]" the terms of the incumbent office holders. See id. It appears that the practical impact of these provisions, if enforced, would extend the terms of office of nineteen county commissioners, three probate judges, two county clerks and sheriffs, one county treasurer, and either one or two county assessors.

         {¶4} The Legislature enacted a similarly intricate set of amendments to accomplish its stated goal of staggering the retention elections of district and metropolitan court judges. In this regard, the Legislature began by creating a new chapter of the Election Code, denominated as the Nonpartisan Judicial Retention Act, NMSA 1978, §§ 1-26-1 to -6 (2019). 2019 N.M. Laws, ch. 212, §§ 172 to -77. As here relevant, Chapter 212 Section 176(A) of the New Mexico Laws of 2019 calls for a retention election to be held for each eligible district court judge "at the general election in the last year of the six-year term of office for the position in which the judge is serving[, ]" while Section 176(B)(2)-(3) provides that the terms of office for district court positions "shall be staggered" so that "the term of office for division 2 and for every third division number thereafter shall expire in 2022 and every six years thereafter[, ]" and that "the term of office for division 3 and for every third division number thereafter shall expire in 2024 and every six years thereafter." The term-staggering provision covering metropolitan court judgeships is laid out in Section 177. Subsection (A) of that section requires eligible metropolitan court judges to face a retention election "in the last year of the four-year term of office for the position in which the judge is serving[, ]" and Subsection (B)(2) provides that "the term of office for division 2 and for every second division number thereafter shall expire in 2024 and every four years thereafter."

         {¶5} Mirroring the approach it used in connection with county offices, the Legislature enacted temporary provisions addressed to district and metropolitan court judges, extending their terms of office so as to phase-in a new staggered election system. By these provisions, the terms of incumbent metropolitan court judges that were set to expire at the end of 2022 were extended for a two-year period, 2019 N.M. Laws, ch. 212, § 280, while the terms of incumbent district judges, each set to expire at the end of 2020, were extended for a two-year or four-year period depending on the particular judicial division involved. 2019 N.M. Laws, ch. 212, § 279(A)-(B). These term extensions were made "subject to the provisions of the Nonpartisan Judicial Retention Act and Article 6 of the [C]onstitution of New Mexico." Id. ยงยง 279(A)- (B), ...


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