Last year New Mexico lawmakers passed a law intended to help protect the civil rights of its people. The New Mexico Civil Rights Act achieved a number of goals including removing qualified immunity for police officers and other public officials so civilians can hold those accountable who abuse their power. Advocates of this law, discussed in more detail in a previous post available here, hail it as a much-needed tool for farmers, ranchers, and others who find themselves victims of politicians or police who abuse their power. Critics argue it may go too far.
Queue a handy piece of fodder for political debates. During the current race for governor Republican contender Mark Ronchetti condemns the law claiming it benefits criminals. The statement is likely a move to garner Republican voters, as no Republicans supported the bill. However, as discussed in a recent piece in the Santa Fe New Mexican, many Republican farmers and ranchers were victims of the very abuse of power this law was passed to curb.
The piece shares the story of King’s raids, a series of government raids on farms and ranches headed by then Attorney General Gary King fifteen years ago. The raids were allegedly an attempt to address animal cruelty and break up cockfighting rings. Although they rarely found any evidence to support the allegations, the group would seize the birds and demand payment or else force the owners to agree to the destruction of the birds and their eggs.
Some fought back and took King and his Animal Cruelty Task Force to court. There they met an insurmountable hurdle: immunity. Advocates of New Mexico’s Civil Rights Act argue this law removes that hurdle and helps farmers, ranchers and others who find themselves in similar situations hold those who abuse their power accountable.
Could political attention put this law at risk?
It is possible that the law could face scrutiny in the future. A new governor could move to repeal the law or other lawmakers could attempt to undermine its efforts. If so, we will provide updates.