On February 5, 2019, the New Mexico Supreme Court dismissed a challenge to the legality of closed primaries in the state. The initial suit was brought by former attorney general Paul Bardacke (D), who argued that New Mexico’s closed primary process serves private organizations (in this case, political parties) in violation of a state law prohibiting the use of public money to benefit private organizations. The state supreme court did not address this argument in its order, which summarily dismissed the challenge.
A closed primary is a type of primary election in which a voter must affiliate formally with a political party in advance of the election date in order to participate in that party’s primary. In 14 states, including New Mexico, at least one political party conducts closed primaries for congressional and state-level offices. In 11 of these states, including New Mexico, all political parties conduct closed primaries. In the 2016 presidential election cycle, political parties in 27 states utilized closed primaries and/or caucuses as part of the presidential nominating process.
In New Mexico, state supreme court justices are appointed by the governor, who selects from a list of candidates recommended by a commission. After being appointed, the justice must stand in the next partisan election in order to retain his or her seat.