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Constitutional Amendment 3 asking to keep judges a full year before re-election

The front door of the New Mexico Supreme Court in Santa Fe.
Austin Fisher
Source NM
The front door of the New Mexico Supreme Court in Santa Fe.

One of the constitutional amendments on the ballot this year concerns appointed judges. It’s asking voters if they think these judges should be spared election in their first year of appointment.

Some of these appointments are done by the governor when there is a mid-term job opening in a non-election year. According to the Legislative Council Service, the appointment judge would then serve until the next partisan election – even if that election is shortly after their appointment.

Constitutional Amendment 3 would delay that election until that judge has served for at least one year following appointment. So, in essence, it postpones the public’s evaluation of their performance.

As it stands, these judges are up for election at the next general election after they’re tapped, even if that election is a couple months after appointment.

Democratic State Sen. Joseph Cervantes of Doña Ana County is the amendment’s sponsor.

“The goal here right now is to assure that the public is evaluating judges after they’ve spent some time on the bench,” he said, “as opposed to the present time when the law requires the judge to stand for election at the first election after their appointment.”

During an amendment vote in the Senate at the beginning of the year, Cervantes said this will allow more private sector attorneys to apply for the position, increasing diversity.

But opponents say the amendment would delay the electoral process. State Sen. Jeff Steinborn, also a Democrat from Doña Ana County, called it a “free pass” and seemed to chafe at the idea of appointed judges being exempt in their first year, potentially serving years before appearing on the ballot

“And to me that just takes a crucial option away from the public,” he said.

After someone is appointed to a judicial position, the judge must run in a competitive partisan election in order to serve the rest of their term. If appointed judges are then elected, at the end of that term, they run in a retention election. That election doesn’t have a competitor and just asks if the public wants to keep the judge on the bench.

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