On Monday, the New Mexico Supreme Court was the stage for a major legal showdown, as it heard oral arguments in a lawsuit filed by the Republican Party of New Mexico (RPNM), joined by GOP state legislators, the National Rifle Association (NRA), former law enforcement officers, and private citizens.
The lawsuit targets far-left anti-gun Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Secretary of the Department of Health Patrick M. Allen, accusing them of using public health orders to infringe upon New Mexicans’ Second Amendment rights via executive order.
Attorney Jessica Hernandez, representing the plaintiffs, challenged the governor’s emergency orders. She argued that these orders overstepped the bounds of emergency statutes, representing an invalid exercise of emergency power. Hernandez emphasized the concern of a single individual bypassing the legislature, having the authority to declare an emergency based on subjective and unspecified criteria, thereby making significant public policy and funding decisions.
Hernandez also pointed out that the public health order from the NM Health Secretary does not constitute an imminent threat. She argued that relying on data spanning over a decade does not establish an emergency but rather a chronic issue.
During the hearing, Justice Briana H. Zamora inquired about the limits of the governor’s power to declare public health emergencies. Holly Agajanian, the governor’s chief general counsel, admitted uncertainty, stating, “I don’t know.” This admission underscores the fear that such emergency powers could lead to future rights violations.
Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon reflected on the plaintiffs’ viewpoint, suggesting the potential for almost anything to be labeled a public health emergency from the governor’s perspective, although she failed to let Hernandez answer questions without consistently interrupting.
The justices posed several hypothetical scenarios, including one where the governor might declare an emergency to suspend driving rights due to DUIs, drawing parallels to the initial emergency order that suspended open and concealed carry of firearms. Agajanian differentiated, noting that the amended order no longer bans concealed and open carry.
The current public health order prohibits firearms in parks and playgrounds. However, Justice Michael E. Vigil observed that the emergency declarations lacked statistical evidence of gun violence issues in these areas.
Justice Zamora noted that many programs within the public health order could have been implemented without an emergency declaration, but the declaration facilitated funding. She expressed concerns about potential overreach through emergency orders, questioning the implications of granting unilateral power over fund allocation.
The lawsuit and the court’s eventual decision are poised to have significant implications for the balance of power in New Mexico and the interpretation of emergency powers in relation to constitutional rights.