Another Republican-backed challenge to pandemic closures bit the dust today in New Mexico, as the state’s Supreme Court ruled that Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has the authority to impose fines on businesses which violate emergency public health orders.
After the president sought to politicize the COVID crisis, urging his followers to “LIBERATE” their states, his local representatives snapped into action. The New Mexico GOP ginned up a lawsuit in May challenging the state’s public orders and preposterously characterizing business closures as a “taking.”
None of the plaintiffs, who included restaurant owners, a car dealers, and operators of a gym, have actually faced substantial fines for violating the law. Nevertheless, they sought court blessing for their theory that the public health statute authorized maximum fines of just $100 per day, and the $5,000 penalties threatened by the governor’s emergency order violated the state’s Public Health Emergency Response Act (PHERA).
Governor Lujan Grisham responded by requesting that the state’s Supreme Court intercede via a petition for superintending control, in which she noted that the PHERA specifically provides for “a civil administrative penalty of up to five thousand dollars ($5,000) for each violation of that act.” And yesterday, after a brief hearing, the court unanimously agreed that, “the New Mexico legislature has clearly given the Governor of New Mexico authority to issue civil administrative penalties under the Public Health Emergency Response Act for violations of restrictions on mass gatherings and business operations contained in emergency public health orders.”
The Court declined to issue an immediate written ruling on the plaintiffs’ “takings” argument, but promised to issue one soon. Spoiler Alert: If the state has the right to levy fines for violating a public health statute closing a business, then a closure is not a taking.
Naturally, the state GOP vowed to respect the rule of law to protect the health of all New Mexicans.
“We are deeply disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision,” Republican Party Chairman Steve Pearce told the Santa Fe New Mexican. “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.”
Which is pretty funny coming from the last Republican member of the Republican congressional delegation who handed his seat over to a Democrat in 2018 for the privilege of losing the gubernatorial race Lujan Grisham by 14 points.
But anyway …. Liberate New Mexico!
High court: Lujan Grisham can impose fines for health order violations (Santa Fe New Mexican)
New Mexico Businesses Open Despite Health Order Lose Challenge of Fines (Courthouse News)
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.