By Tom McDonald
Syndicated content 

Opinion: 2022 still hanging around in the courts


Last updated 1/21/2023 at 12:41pm

This may be 2023, but 2022 is still hanging around on court dockets.

Last year, we saw the biggest fire in New Mexico’s recorded history. We watched as our Legislature reconfigured the state’s congressional districts. We saw the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the nearly half-century-old Roe decision. And while these and other state and national developments left a heavy footprint on the year just ended, they’ll be litigated in the year just begun.

The Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon Fire burned 341,471 acres in northern New Mexico, or an astounding 533 square miles, in 2022. Amazingly, only two people died as a direct result of that wildfire, but about 1,000 structures were either destroyed or damaged by the fire.

Now comes FEMA — and lawsuits. The federal government, whose “controlled burns” ignited the two wildfires that merged into one, is now offering billions of dollars in assistance as Norteños work to rebuild their homes and communities, while lawyers are circling like vultures over the entire mess.

No surprise there, since trust in our government is about as low as it can get. Why not get an attorney on your side? Better than getting lost in the red tape, right?

For better or worse, expect a lot of litigation over this disaster in the months and years to come.

Another big deal from 2022 was New Mexico’s congressional redistricting map, redrawn to provide better “balance” in the populations around the state.

It’s being challenged in court this year by a contingent out of Chaves County, a mostly Republican county in southeastern New Mexico that has been sliced into two districts, the Second and Third congressional districts.

In CD2 last year, Democrat Gabe Vasquez of Las Cruces won election to Congress, defeating by a hair the GOP incumbent, Yvette Herrell. Her loss, Republicans contend, was the result of gerrymandered district lines.

Whether that’s true or not has yet to be decided. A district judge had previously dismissed the Roswell-based lawsuit against the redistricting lines but it was appealed to the state Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. Currently, the justices are considering whether to send the plaintiffs’ complaint back to district court for a full hearing this year.

I’m not lawyer, but I can see it going either way. A bare-naked look at the map suggests that, yeah, they do look manipulated to favor the Democrats, but a look at the last election, in which Vasquez barely won — just as Democrat Xochitl Torres Small did in 2018, when she beat Herrell — suggests the district is, overall, still fairly evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans. That certainly was the case in 2018 and 2020.

Maybe Roswell’s Republican majority is being diluted by the redrawn lines, but Las Cruces — the most populated city in the district by far, and of course a Democratic stronghold — eclipses Roswell and the rest of the southeastern corner of the state as king- and queen-maker in CD2.

And, finally, another big rollover from 2022 — the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on abortion, which shifts it from a national right to a state-by-state battle.

Here in New Mexico, communities neighboring Texas on the far east side are passing “sanctuary” laws intended to “protect the unborn,” but their actions to ban abortions there will soon be challenged, and probably defeated, since New Mexico is clearly in the “pro-choice” category according to the law and majority rule.

I guess it will be a good year to be an attorney.

Tom McDonald is editor of the New Mexico Community News Exchange. Contact him at:

[email protected]


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