Attorney Sarah Shore and Krystal Curley, Executive Director of Indigenous Lifeways at the NM Supreme Court November 28th, 2022
Yesterday, the NM Supreme Court heard arguments in the case brought by Indigenous Lifeways, Three Sisters Collective, and New Mexico Social Justice Equity Institute challenging the constitutionality of the ballot referendum that removed the voting rights and representation of New Mexico citizens on the Public Regulation Commission (“PRC”). Petitioners argued that the language of the ballot measure failed to inform the electorate that they were giving up their right to vote and their right to representation on the PRC by omitting these plain statements from the ballot question, resulting in an unconstitutional taking of voting rights that New Mexicans reserved for themselves in the New Mexico Constitution. In particular, petitioners argued that the removal of geographic representation on the court caused egregious harm to Indigenous communities that have borne and continue to bear the brunt of extractive energy industry harms in New Mexico.
We were at the NM Supreme Court with many of our friends, and we experienced a bit of whiplash. The courageous women challenging the misleading ballot referendum were joined by Friends of the Court, intervenors Indivisible Albuquerque and Retake Our Democracy, all who showed up in force, cautiously hoping for justice. During oral arguments we cheered when the justices forcefully challenged the arguments brought by the Attorney General and the Governor, incredulously challenging their assertions that the objections were time-barred (30-days) by election law, saying "It's a pretty extreme position to tell the Supreme Court of the State of New Mexico to turn a blind eye to that which might be unconstitutional," and correctly pointing out that Indigenous communities most impacted by fossil fuel extraction and coal pollution were disenfranchised by the referendum.
That is why we were disappointed when the Justices appeared after a short recess and dismissed the petitioners' claims without explaining why they thought the ballot question met Constitutional muster and didn't mislead. We were stunned, but not truly surprised, because the outcome was only the latest injustice perpetrated by the fossil fuel industry to increase their political and financial influence over the agency making decisions about the essential services of electricity, water and heat that every New Mexican depends on.
This case was about more than the right to vote. This case was about a power grab by the Governor and powerful legislators, and pay back for their fossil fuel campaign contributors and supporters. Avangrid/PNM and fossil fuel (including hydrogen) interests could no longer dominate at the PRC, so they got rid of the elected PRC under the guise of creating a "professional" PRC. Not only did the ballot question omit critical information - that it was turning the PRC from elected to appointed - making it misleading, but it did so intentionally, hiding the real motive under a deliberately false cover.
When economic justice and the public interest won and kept on winning (represented by New Energy Economy and others in certain cases), the utilities simply switched tactics, funding the PRC referendum to ensure that political influence over their regulators continued unabated. As the petitioners put it in their press release yesterday:
“During oral argument the justice implied that we should seek remedy at the legislature. Now that’s our only choice. We will once again be forced to retraumatize ourselves by having to retell the story of our experienced abuse from the hands of this capitalistic industry that has colonized our land for centuries. Telling our Grandmother’s story, telling our personal experiences and teaching our children to tell the same stories until when? It is so disheartening to continue holding this burden on our shoulders generation after generation, going up against these multi-billion dollar systems. What little representation we had was taken away from us in a deceptive manner during a time our communities were experiencing a global pandemic. Now the PRC will again be in the pocket of corporations. Whether it’s Avangrid or fossil-fueled hydrogen or the continued extraction of oil, gas and coal, there are billions at stake and the companies profiting off of our land and people have once again used their influence to ensure that they will face no opposition from the very regulators who are supposed to oversee them.” - Petitioner Krystal Curley, Executive Director of Indigenous Lifeways “Our lawyer was exemplary, laying out our case clearly and crushing the opposing arguments. The Court’s decision is a slap in the face to Indigenous people. We’re always having to do the work to protect our land and people, but once again our voices are silenced. This is the legacy of the extractive industries in New Mexico. We will continue to do the work to speak up, honor our traditions and care for the land and our people. We are here, and we will continue speaking as we always have. There is no time limit on justice.” -Petitioner Dr. Christina M. Castro, Co-Leader of Three Sisters Collective. “The Democratic officials are always complaining about the Republicans but in this state the Democrats trample on our fundamental rights too! This is a very scary time. Is justice always on the chopping block for industry and their political allies in government? The decision, to me, is about the continual erasure of our existence and the undue burden of environmental justice. At the root of the erasure is the doctrine of discovery. For hundreds of years, we have, and we will continue to always be there to stand up for the truth and defend Mother Earth from the desecration by industry.” - Petitioner, Anna Rondon, New Mexico Social Justice Equity Institute,
How do we move forward from here? We take inspiration from Anna and Krystal and Dr. Castro and recommit ourselves once again to speak truth against injustice, to fight for our children and grandchildren. The system may be powerful, but it operates only with our consent and complacency. We have the power to effect change, and we hope you will join us.