The New Mexico Supreme Court ruled against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday in a long-running dispute with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle over which branch of government has the authority to appropriate federal funds.

The high court sided unanimously with senators who opposed Lujan Grisham making decisions on how to spend about $1.6 billion in federal pandemic aid without input from the Legislature.

“The Constitution won today,” state Sen. Jacob Candelaria, D-Albuquerque, wrote in a text message after the ruling.

“Big decisions about state policy, and especially decisions about how to spend billions in public money, must be made in the light of day through the legislative process. These sort of decisions shall never be made by a governor acting alone behind closed doors,” he added.

Candelaria joined Republican Sen. Greg Baca of Belen in filing a lawsuit against the governor in September, contending she was overstepping her authority.

The senators also had asked the Supreme Court to order Lujan Grisham to halt spending of federal pandemic aid while their lawsuit was pending. The court denied that request last month.

However, after justices listened to arguments for two hours in the case, they issued a brief ruling from the bench ordering a freeze on federal pandemic aid spending until the Legislature makes appropriations.

“The court grants standing to the petitioners on the basis of great public importance,” Chief Justice Michael Vigil said, according to KRQE-TV. “The court will order a writ of prohibition and mandamus, prohibiting the governor and the state treasurer and all other state officials subject to their accord from transferring, encumbering, committing, expending or appropriating any additional funds out of the state ARPA [American Relief Plan Act] account in the state treasury, absent of appropriation.”

Lawmakers plan to add the federal pandemic relief money into budget appropriations in the upcoming 30-day legislative session, which begins in January.

State Treasurer Tim Eichenberg sided with Candelaria and Baca last month in a written response ordered by the court, asserting through an attorney the expenditure of COVID-19 relief funds requires legislative appropriation. In a legal brief filed earlier this month, four long-serving Democratic senators who chair some of the most influential committees in the Legislature also joined in the effort to rein in the governor’s spending powers.

Candelaria told justices in court Wednesday the federal funds “can be appropriated in either a transparent, public and legislative appropriations process … or they can be appropriated in a closed-door process in which only the governor may determine unilaterally how to appropriate these funds without the need for, or the inconvenience, of public debate, committee hearings or bargaining majorities in the House and Senate.”



The high court’s decision came during a news conference Wednesday in the Roundhouse on the appointment of new advisers in the governor’s administration. Lujan Grisham told reporters she would seek guidance in the wake of the decision, and that she and lawmakers now must work together to determine how best to use the funds as quickly as possible.

“We need to get this money out,” the governor said.

“I’m trying to leverage every dollar,” she said. “That’s what we should do here. We should leverage it all to get the biggest bang for our buck.”

She said she will discuss with lawmakers how to spend the federal money so it can be made available to those who are overseeing infrastructure improvements.

“I don’t know exactly what that looks like,” she said. “We’re going to have to figure that out together.”

Baca lauded the high court’s decision.

“In one of the most significant rulings in decades, the New Mexico Supreme Court today preserved the appropriating authority of the legislature and affirmed the separation and balance of powers enshrined in our Constitution,” he said in a statement. “… The Governor’s attempts to assume unilateral control of our state by bucking the authority of her office and the state constitution are an egregious power grab, and we are thankful that the high court has ruled in favor of the people.”

The case before the Supreme Court “was a litmus test on whether this state will continue to kowtow to and allow one politician to make decisions without the voice of the people,” House Republican Minority Leader Jim Townsend of Artesia said in a statement.

“It is interesting that even the Governor’s judicial appointees have decided in favor of the people’s voice, not to mention the five Senators that bucked the inaction by their party leadership to fight for the people,” Townsend said.

“It saddens me that our colleagues in the House of Representatives failed to stand up for the voice of the people,” he added, “but it is our hope that this puts them and the Governor on notice that we will not be silenced when it comes to representing the people of New Mexico.”

Staff writer Scott Wyland and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

(27) comments

Khal Spencer

The State Constitution says (Art. 4, Sec 30) "Except interest or other payments on the public debt, money shall be paid out of the treasury only upon appropriations made by the legislature.  No money shall be paid therefrom except upon warrant drawn by the proper officer.  Every law making an appropriation shall distinctly specify the sum appropriated and the object to which it is to be applied."

So does Federal money go into the State Treasury? I doubt it says "pay to the order of the Governor" but maybe that is the question.

Khal Spencer

Thank you, NM Supreme Court, for reminding our governor that power has limits and that there are 3 branches of government. Also, what Chris Mechels says below. The act needs to be amended to require some sort of legislative concurrence for these indefinite "states of emergency".

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Michael Kiley

No good deed goes unpunished. I expect that if further litigation occurs, it will show federal law empowering gubernatorial emergency spending not subject to delay by the process of a legislature not in session. This NM court decision illustrates the from the US high court, 'extreme cases make bad law'.

Emily Koyama

If a special session can be created for cannabis legalization , then a special session can also be called to decide on the expenditures of the federal stimulus funding.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Richard Reinders

I guess no Wagyu steaks for Thanksgiving

Mike Johnson

No, she will be enjoying a large helping of crow......

Khal Spencer

[lol]

Mike Johnson

Amazing ruling, and maybe there is hope for democracy to return to NM. Now the legislators need to use their newly found spines to dismantle the egregious and poorly written emergency health act to return government by and for the people to NM, from the totalitarian situation we have today.

Kirk Holmes

[thumbup][thumbup]

Barry Rabkin

Except the Governor does have the law on her side regarding public health orders during a global pandemic of a highly infectious virus. She even has the US Constitution on her side.

Mike Johnson

Not if the legislature grows a spine and cuts her totalitarian powers off that they granted when they were ignorant of what a dictator could do with the law they passed.

Barry Rabkin

The Legislature can not over-ride the US Constitution. The 10th Amendment AND its attendant case law/rulings enable the governors of each State to deal with a public health emergency in the manner they deem necessary. And Covid-19 is a public health emergency: Covid-19 is real, it is NOT the same as the seasonal flu. MLG, thankfully, managed the virus in a way to strive to save lives and not overwhelm our healthcare system. Did that mean that companies would go out of business? Yes. Did that increase depression? Yes. Her priorities were still absolutely correct.

Mike Johnson

Mr. Rabkin, MLG is not using the US Constitution alone for her dictatorial, totalitarian powers, she is using the egregious and poorly written NM Emergency Health Act. That act can be scrapped and re-written to not allow her to have these powers (which she thought included spending federal funds before this ruling) indefinitely only based on her personal whims. The legislature needs to start doing their job and return NM to democracy, not one person rule, which is where we are today.

LeRoy Sanchez

So true! So many angry men just waiting to denigrate our governor daily!

Mike Johnson

There are many angry women too, this is not a gender issue, why play the gender card?

LeRoy Sanchez

I stand by my statement. Note the names. Angry men are in the majority.

Khal Spencer

Not completely. Many states have emergency powers acts that sunset unless renewed with concurrence by the various state legislatures. Federalism means these state laws are not in conflict with the 10A or Federal case law.

The problem is when our Legislature passed the original emergency law (2003?) it relinquished too much power, at least in my opinion. YMMV.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]Agreed, they enabled a dictator in this case.

Chris Mechels

One of the first orders of business in the next session should be to modify the Phera Act, passed in 2003 in the post 9/11 panic. Its a bad piece of work, which had never been used before Covid. Intended for a real emergency, extending the Governor's powers, a loophole allowed to her to keep extending her powers 30 days at a time, forever. She of course threatened to veto any attempt to change that provision, and there you have it, a Dictator. When Covid appeared, in 2020, on of MLG's first moves was to illegally pass an Emergency Rule, 7.1.30 NMAC, with no public input, which cut off the right to appeal the Governor's decisions. All of this passed without comment from our "media", which seems to be owned by MLG. What a craven bunch... Perhaps we were so naive as to think that no Governor would make herself Dictator, after all the bill was passed by Democrats. Well now we know, and must relearn the old lesson. Power Corrupts; and Michelle is completely corrupt at this point. Impeachment would be appropriate of course, but voting her out seems mandatory. And of course, modify the Phera Act, to cut off the next Dictator.

Mike Johnson

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup]

Emily Koyama

Well, gee, a LOUSY week for Queen MLG....

Bottom of the Nation for covid numbers.....(along with every other category) and that's compared to States with no mask or vaccine mandates. And now this.

I challenge anyone to defend her right to control all of the federal stimulus money without the Legislature. Russell? Robert? Carolyn?

Come on, man!

Mike Johnson

[thumbup]

Kirk Holmes

It’s phrased ……. C’mon Man! And don’t forget to sport those Joe Cool shades when saying it 😎

Emily Koyama

I stand corrected.

Richard Reinders

[thumbup]

Welcome to the discussion.

Thank you for joining the conversation on Santafenewmexican.com. Please familiarize yourself with the community guidelines. Avoid personal attacks: Lively, vigorous conversation is welcomed and encouraged, insults, name-calling and other personal attacks are not. No commercial peddling: Promotions of commercial goods and services are inappropriate to the purposes of this forum and can be removed. Respect copyrights: Post citations to sources appropriate to support your arguments, but refrain from posting entire copyrighted pieces. Be yourself: Accounts suspected of using fake identities can be removed from the forum.