As U.S. senators battle over a Supreme Court nominee in our nation’s capitol, one may reasonably ask why a democratic government would tolerate an unpopular president – a president who did not receive a majority of the popular vote – and a majority of senators whose future teeters on the results of the November election, to make such an important lifetime appointment. This not only seems undemocratic; it is.
It is fundamental in democracies that the majority will of the people should mean something. This applies to most government representatives, save one notable exception: our federal courts. The U.S. Constitution gives the power to appoint members of the federal bench to the president, with advice and consent of the U.S. Senate. This applies to U.S. District Court and U.S. Court of Appeals judges, and U.S. Supreme Court justices.
New Mexicans need not worry that this undemocratic approach to selecting judges is universal. The New Mexico Constitution gives people the right to vote for state court judges. As a result, the drama playing out in Washington, D.C. would not occur in our state. But the right to vote is only as good as the choice to exercise it.
New Mexicans are currently in the throes of an election in which people can exercise their will to vote for judges, whether it is magistrate, probate, metropolitan, district court, or court of appeals judges, or, of course, N.M. Supreme Court justices. I can prove this assertion. Just look at your ballot, front and back side, and you will see that you indeed have a voice in deciding whether New Mexico judges should be elected or continue to serve the people, unlike the federal system.
Whether the judge or justice appears on the contested or the retention – yes or no – portion of your ballot, we can all decide who we will support to decide important community issues and disputes among people. I wrote on Aug. 30 (op-ed, “Informed Voters Strengthen Our Judiciary System”) that “Democracy places a heavy burden on the shoulders of citizens.” If we consider this thought, we may feel that weight bearing down as requested absentee voting ballots appear in our mailboxes or as we walk to early voting sites.
Please remember to research your judges and justices and vote in these races; because, as a New Mexican, you have that right.