In a stunning move of opposition to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez announced a new Civil Rights Division in his office, a proposal the governor pocket vetoed from the 2023 Legislative Session.
“We are going to establish the first dedicated office focused on protecting the rights of everyone in this country, but particularly the children of this country, and that includes Latino children,” Torrez said before the start of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) convention, where he is being honored.
Torrez says the division, vetoed in S.B. 426, will concentrate on civil rights cases and prioritize protecting children.
According to KRQE 13, he told the crowd, “Now, we didn’t get that bill over the finish line, but when we had the veto, I made a promise to this community, and I’m going to make a promise to my extended community across the country: we’re going to create the civil rights division in the Attorney General’s Office anyway!”
“We are re-allocating within the agency, and frankly, it’s a position that I didn’t want to be in. I didn’t want to be in a position where I had to repurpose some of the resources that we had dedicated to other issue areas, but I think it’s so important to start better protecting children and start improving education that we take a more affirmative role and build out this institution,” Torrez said to the ire of the governor, who expressed the Division would “muddy the waters for agencies already tasked with child welfare and that no funding was set aside for the division,” according to the report.
Because of the route the Attorney General is taking, Torrez said his prosecutors won’t be able to gather evidence ahead of litigation, but rather only after they make a public filing. “One of the other things that we don’t have that was included in the bill is the ability to gather discovery before litigation. A civil investigative demand. Where we could quietly gather information before we decided whether to initiate a formal action,” Torrez says, “Now, because we don’t have that power, we’re going to end up like all other civil rights plaintiffs—we’re going to file an action which is a big public process and then go through the discovery procedures after that.”
KOAT 13 added, “Torrez said he’s already hired two attorneys for the division and hopes to hire several more and a division director before the year is up. He added that the new office will also focus on equity in education and jail conditions.”