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New Mexico court: Grand juries can’t challenge COVID orders

March 7, 2022 GMT
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs one of a suite of education bills that will increase teacher salaries and benefits on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M. Lujan Grisham signed the bills near the playground of the Francis X. Nava Elementary School alongside grade school students, legislative leaders, and teacher union representatives (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs one of a suite of education bills that will increase teacher salaries and benefits on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M. Lujan Grisham signed the bills near the playground of the Francis X. Nava Elementary School alongside grade school students, legislative leaders, and teacher union representatives (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs one of a suite of education bills that will increase teacher salaries and benefits on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M. Lujan Grisham signed the bills near the playground of the Francis X. Nava Elementary School alongside grade school students, legislative leaders, and teacher union representatives (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs one of a suite of education bills that will increase teacher salaries and benefits on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M. Lujan Grisham signed the bills near the playground of the Francis X. Nava Elementary School alongside grade school students, legislative leaders, and teacher union representatives (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs one of a suite of education bills that will increase teacher salaries and benefits on Tuesday, March 1, 2022, in Santa Fe, N.M. Lujan Grisham signed the bills near the playground of the Francis X. Nava Elementary School alongside grade school students, legislative leaders, and teacher union representatives (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that citizens can’t convene grand juries to investigate the governor’s response to COVID-19 because her actions were lawful and within the scope of her authority.

The unanimous order by the five-member court scuttles three grand jury petitions in the politically conservative southeastern corner of the state against Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The justices also ordered district courts to deny any similar petitions as they are filed.

In the response to the pandemic, the Democratic governor has pursued aggressive emergency public health orders that restricted nonessential business, imposed extended mask mandates and enabled many public schools to suspend classroom teaching for a year or more. The orders withstood multiple legal challenges.

New Mexico is one of six states that allows citizens to convene grand jury investigations directly. But the grand jury petitions against Lujan Grisham were dismissed on face value because the state’s pandemic response was legally valid.

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“This court previously has held that (the governor) acted lawfully and within the scope of her executive authority when she declared a public health emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” the court wrote in a unanimous order. Any other grand jury petitions “based on substantially similar petitions should be denied as facially invalid because they describe only lawful, noncriminal activity.”

The governor’s complaint noted that it was difficult for her to determine how many grand jury petitions had been filed or to respond because the proceedings are sealed and confidential.

The Supreme Court responded by directing a judicial committee to consider possible rule changes that would give notice to a public official who is the target of a grand jury petition and allow the official to intervene in the case.