SANTA FE (KRQE) – The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Wednesday that New Mexico judges will receive up to 5 percent raises, overturning a veto by Gov. Susana Martinez.
The hearing Wednesday took place after judges filed a lawsuit against Gov. Susana Martinez after she vetoed their 8 percent pay raises.
A 3 percent veto was upheld. Martinez argued the raise was one appropriation and not two separate ones, while the judges’ attorney argued she overstepped her boundaries.
It wasn’t the usual five Supreme Court justices making an appearance in Santa Fe. Four out of the five sitting in Wednesday are retired. That’s because the other four sat this hearing out dealing with pay raises for judges.
“The legislature tried to give an 8 percent raise and the governor felt that was excessive in a year where the budget was overspent and where teachers and other state workers were only receiving 3 percent raises,” Jessica Hernandez said.
Hernandez represents Governor Susana Martinez.
“Governor Martinez has to make very difficult decisions to make sure the budget is financially responsible,” Hernandez added.
Hernandez said that’s why the governor vetoed that pay raise.
Ray Vargas, who spoke on behalf of state judges, said there were two parts to the raise – 3 percent for all state workers and an additional 5 percent for judges.
He said the governor only vetoed part of it, making it unconstitutional.
“The separation of powers between the legislature and governor’s office must be maintained and that it’s this courts job to make sure that happens,” Vargas said.
After roughly an hour of hearing both sides, there was a quick recess. They came back with a decision in favor of the judges.
“The veto of the 5 percent raise is null and void,” Justice Richard Bosson said.
It was a unanimous decision, though Justice Richard Bosson said it appeared the legislature may have tried hiding that separate 5 percent raise in their appropriations bill.
“The court has created a brand new standard that has never been used before to give themselves a 5 percent pay raise,” Hernandez said.
“The court here reiterated the fact that there all limits on the governor’s partial veto power,” Vargas said.
Vargas said there were no “fastballs” thrown at the governor with this bill and said it was just crafted a little differently than in years past.
Because they are retired, four of the five judges who issued today’s ruling will not benefit from the pay raise. But, the raise will mean a bump in pay for Supreme Court justices.