On August 4, 2020, the New Mexico Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the governor may legally fine businesses that violate the New Mexico Public Health Emergency Response Act.
The case came to the supreme court after several businesses filed suit in the 9th Judicial District in Curry County. The state Republican Party helped organize the complaint against the governor. The plaintiffs claimed that the power of the governor to fine businesses that violated the Emergency Response Act was not inherent to the act itself. Chief Justice Michael Vigil, writing the court’s opinion, said, “The Legislature has clearly given the governor that authority.”
In response to the supreme court’s decision, Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce said, “We are deeply disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision… This ruling demonstrates the need to seek change at the polls this November by electing conservative judicial candidates who will help protect our freedoms and basic rights. What happens at the polls impacts what happens in our lives in New Mexico, and we must make a stand this fall on Election Day.”
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) tweeted in response to the court’s decision: “The state shouldn’t have to fine anybody…Doing the right thing in a crisis shouldn’t be something we have to argue about. But anyone endangering the lives of New Mexicans will face the consequences.”
The state supreme court may hear a similar case in the future. In July, the New Mexico Restaurant Association filed a lawsuit in a state District Court challenging the state’s authority to order establishments to close indoor dining again after briefly allowing the businesses to reopen at 50% capacity.
As of August 11, Ballotpedia has tracked 681 lawsuits filed in response to policies implemented to address the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States. Of these 681 suits, 189 have been filed in state-level courts (and 34 of those have been taken up by state supreme courts). The remaining lawsuits have been filed in the federal judiciary.