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New Mexico Civil Rights Act

 Posted on January 16, 2023 in Uncategorized


One of the most important pieces of legislation in New Mexico State history became law this year. The passage of the New Mexico Civil Rights Act provides the citizens of New Mexico with additional protections against infringements on their freedoms and civil liberties. Many attorneys are hailing it as a breakthrough in protecting residents’ civil rights.

Many Americans are familiar with excessive force cases dating back before Rodney King and continuing through George Floyd. The greatest impediment to prosecuting these civil rights cases is the judicially created notion of qualified immunity. There has been much debate and discussion on Capitol Hill regarding legislation that would abolish qualified immunity, but New Mexico took the bold step of abolishing it for the citizens of New Mexico immediately while the federal legislation languishes in committee.

The New Mexico Civil Rights Act allows New Mexicans to launch lawsuits against governmental entities in state court if they believe their civil rights have been violated, and it eliminates "qualified immunity" as a legal defense in such complaints. Qualified immunity shields government workers from personal liability under federal law when workers violate people’s constitutional rights.

Lawmakers backing the New Mexico Civil Rights Act said it would hold governmental agencies accountable in a way that was previously only possible by going through the federal courts. Zackeree Kelan, a highly respected New Mexico trial attorney, served on the committee that drafted the New Mexico Civil Rights Act.

Rafe Foreman, a New Mexico civil rights attorney licensed in New Mexico ,Texas, Oklahoma and Missouri, expects that he will see an increase in his office of such cases being filed in state courts to protect civil rights of New Mexico citizens. The law will only apply to actions that take place after July 1, 2021, so if something happened two years ago, a client would not be able to bring a claim in state court under this new law. Rafe is a partner in the Texas law firm of Hutchinson & Foreman where he and his partner Susan Hutchison fight for the rights of their clients in multiple state and federal courts.

The new law is significant because in the past clients have not had an effective way to sue for damages for a violation of their state constitutional rights because New Mexico didn’t have a statute that says they can sue for damages. Infringement of freedom of speech, religion or elections are among the civil rights violations that citizens could pursue under the new law. Residents could also sue if they feel they were unduly or cruelly punished or unlawfully held against their will by governmental agencies. What New Mexico has done is novel and historic.

Holding governmental entities accountable can make a difference in cutting down on civil rights violations. Governments could initiate training programs to try to prevent individual misconduct from occurring again. Government agencies – not individual employees – will be the ones who end up paying the bill in cases they lose.

Make no mistake, the New Mexico Civil Rights Act is not just a police law. This is a law providing for lawsuits against government officials for violations of the New Mexico state constitution. There are a lot of New Mexico government officials who are not police officers. Many civil rights cases in the federal courts have nothing to do with the police but deal with violations of the First Amendment or employment claims. For the text of the act click the following link.

So, if you are in New Mexico and you believe that your civil liberties or fundamental constitutional rights have been violated, please give us a call for a free online or zoom consultation. When you have a medical emergency, you call 911. When you have need for information, you dial 411. When you have a legal emergency dial 4911. You may also click this link to be directed to our firm.

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