On January 25, Julie Vargas was sworn in as a justice on the New Mexico Supreme Court. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) appointed Vargas on December 19, 2020, to succeed Justice Judith Nakamura (R), who retired on December 1.
Prior to her appointment, Vargas was a judge on the New Mexico Court of Appeals. She was elected to this position on November 8, 2016.
All five New Mexico Supreme Court justices have been either elected as Democrats or appointed by Democratic governors. Gov. Lujan Grisham has appointed three state supreme court justices, and Chief Justice Michael Vigil and Associate Justice Barbara Vigil (no relation) were elected as Democrats.
Under New Mexico law, state supreme court vacancies are filled through assisted gubernatorial appointment, in which the governor selects a nominee based on recommendations from a judicial nominating commission.
Gubernatorial appointees must stand in a partisan election in the next election cycle to remain on the court. To remain on the bench, Julie Vargas must run for election in 2022. Subsequent terms are acquired in uncontested retention elections wherein sitting justices must receive 57% of the vote to retain their seat
New Mexico is one of seven states that use partisan elections to select state supreme court justices for either initial or subsequent terms. Of those seven states, four—Illinois, New Mexico, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—have a majority of Democratic justices while three—Alabama, Louisiana, and Texas—have a Republican majority.