Selection Process Begins For Supreme Court Succession

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The selection process is underway to fill a vacancy on the New Mexico Supreme Court with the departure of Barbara Vigil at the end of June.

A bipartisan nominating commission is scheduled on Thursday to interview candidates for the high court post. Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has final say on which nominee to appoint.

Applicants include Santa Fe-based District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington, who last year dismissed a Republican Party challenge on the oversight of election ballot drop boxes.

Appeals Court Judge Briana Zamora of Albuquerque and District Judge Jennifer DeLaney of Deming were nominated previously in 2020 and passed over by the governor.

State District Judge Victor Lopez is a former state workers compensation official whose wife previously received a vacancy appointment to the state Senate by Lujan Grisham in 2019.

Retiring Justice Vigil wrote the lead majority opinion in 2019 that set aside the death penalty for the final two inmates awaiting execution a decade after the state’s repeal of capital punishment. She also authored recent opinions on utility regulation amid the state’s transition away from coal-fired power plants.

Vigil’s successor must stand for partisan election in 2022. The winner of that election will confront a retention vote in 2024.

In recent months, the Supreme Court has been an arbiter of the governor’s emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic, recently rejecting lawsuits seeking automatic compensation for businesses affected by aggressive pandemic restriction.

A moratorium on housing evictions remains in place at the court’s discretion in response to the economic stress of the pandemic.