Democrat state legislators are obstructing justice by asserting their right to legislative privilege in the escalating legal conflict surrounding New Mexico’s gerrymandered congressional map. As tensions mount, several legislative leaders have made it clear this week that they won’t participate in the depositions scheduled by the Republican Party of New Mexico and other plaintiffs who oppose the redistricting efforts. The lawmakers have also submitted motions to invalidate the GOP’s subpoenas, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
The crux of their argument hinges on a specific clause within the state Constitution. This clause stipulates that legislators “shall not be questioned in any other place for any speech or debate or for any votes cast” in either legislative chamber. The Democrats’ assertion of this legislative privilege underscores their belief that they are shielded from external inquiries regarding their legislative actions and statements.
On the other hand, the plaintiffs contend that their requests for information are within the parameters of standard practice in gerrymandering lawsuits. They have also indicated a willingness to narrow the scope of their information requests. This conflict over depositions coincides with District Judge Fred Van Soelen’s looming deadline of October 1, as ordered by the Supreme Court, to settle the case. A trial is scheduled from September 27 to 29 in Lovington.
The legal dispute revolves around allegations made by the Republican Party of New Mexico and other parties, including Democrat Roswell Mayor Timothy Jennings, who claim that Democrat lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham unlawfully diluted the voting power of Republicans in the newly redrawn congressional districts following the 2020 census.
The core of the matter is illustrated through an extensive 80-page legal submission by attorneys supporting the maps. They claim that the GOP and other plaintiffs are demanding deposition and record submissions that could “transform this case into an unconstitutional circus that cannot be completed” by the October 1 deadline. The legislative privilege is portrayed as an unassailable foundation of the separation of powers, protecting the legislative branch from external encroachment by the judiciary or executive branches.
The Democrats also attempted to boot Democrat Mayor Jennings from the lawsuit, claiming he does not have standing despite his community being chopped up in multiple pieces and cracking the voting power of the people in Roswell.
Republicans’ legal representatives counter that legislative privilege can be counterbalanced with other constitutional rights. They argue that courts have occasionally overridden privilege claims in cases involving partisan gerrymandering, citing the potential deprivation of citizens’ equal participation in the political process due to redistricting.
The litigation has led the state’s Republican Party and other plaintiffs to assemble an extensive list of potential witnesses among Democrat lawmakers and political insiders. These individuals could be called upon to provide testimony under oath during depositions or at the trial. However, key legislative figures, including Senator Joseph Cervantes (D-Las Cruces), who co-sponsored the gerrymandering legislation, have formally informed the court that they will not participate in the scheduled depositions. This decision stems from their assertion of legislative privilege and other legal defenses.
The opportunity to question Democrat legislators under oath holds significant weight in the case. Opponents of the map, primarily Republicans, are striving to demonstrate that Democrat lawmakers crafted the gerrymandered plan with the intention of consolidating their party’s grip on power. Ultimately, the judge will likely assess whether a nonpartisan rationale exists behind the map’s formation.