New Mexico Supreme Court backs governor’s pandemic authority

SANTA FE. N.M. (AP) — The state Supreme Court has issued a written opinion that shows new resolve in its support of pandemic-related health restrictions placed on businesses by the governor of New Mexico.

At the same time Monday, the Legislature took initial steps that could place new limits on Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s authority to declare a health emergency.

The Supreme Court opinion provides detailed and updated reasoning for a decision in August that rejected a lawsuit brought by several restaurants and their industry association.

A bill from Republican Senate Minority Leader Greg Baca would limit the duration of public health orders to 45 days and require legislative approval to extend an order.

The Court determined that the July 13, 2020 emergency public health emergency order’s temporary closure of indoor dining at restaurants and brewpubs was lawfully issued under authority granted by the Legislature and was not “arbitrary and capricious.”

The Court concluded that the Department of Health was not required to follow administrative rulemaking procedures, which can be lengthy and require a public hearing, to impose the emergency public health restrictions on indoor dining. The Court also rejected arguments that it should declare an “end date” to the authority of the governor and secretary of health to issue emergency orders so the Legislature could address the coronavirus pandemic through its lawmaking role.

“New Mexico has not entered a ‘new normal,’ nor do the temporary emergency orders constitute ‘long-term policy’ decisions. New Mexico remains in a state of emergency,” the Court concluded in an opinion by retired Justice Judith K. Nakamura. “The argument that special sessions of the Legislature should be used in lieu of Petitioners’ emergency orders is so facially unworkable that it only reinforces the conclusion that it was appropriate for the Legislature to grant the executive branch ample authority to immediately and flexibly respond to a public health emergency.”