The state Supreme Court issued a written opinion Friday on New Mexico’s authority to enforce public health orders amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The opinion provided detailed legal reasoning for an unanimous decision in August, in which justices ruled the state health secretary had legal authority to impose restrictions on indoor dining.
The court also ruled such restrictions were not “arbitrary and capricious,” as an attorney for the New Mexico Restaurant Association and several eateries had argued.
The ruling came after businesses filed a lawsuit in state District Court challenging Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s emergency health orders related to the pandemic, and the governor responded by petitioning the Supreme Court to resolve the matter.
The court concluded the Legislature empowered the governor and other state officials to enforce public health restrictions on businesses through the Public Health Emergency Response Act, which allows fines of $5,000 a day for violations.
“The spirit and intent of the Act suggests that the penalty provision is applicable to all violations of orders and other measures lawfully exercising the powers conveyed thereunder,” read the opinion, written by Justice Judith Nakamura.
The court also ruled that the Department of Health has authority to respond to a public health emergency.
“The Secretary was authorized … to issue emergency orders forbidding gatherings of people to ‘control and abate’ the transmission of COVID-19 in locales such as restaurants,” the opinion said.