NM Supreme Court upholds city’s rule barring its employees from seeking or holding elective office

Today the New Mexico Supreme Court issued its ruling in Kane v. City of Albuquerque, upholding provisions of the City Charter and the City Personnel Rules which prohibit city employees from seeking or holding elective office.

Emily Kane, a captain with the Albuquerque Fire Department, sought and received the Democratic Party’s nomination for a seat in the New Mexico House of Representatives in 2012, and ultimately won the seat. The City objected, and Kane then filed a lawsuit challenging the City’s prohibition on constitutional and statutory grounds. The District Court ruled in her favor. For more background on the case, see this story by Milan Simonich in the Santa Fe New Mexican.

Kane was defeated in the 2014 election by Republican Sarah Maestas Barnes, but the litigation proceeded to the Supreme Court after the Court of Appeals certified the case.

In an opinion by Justice Chavez, the Court rejected Kane’s argument that the City’s prohibition violates the First Amendment “because they regulate conflicts of interest, and are therefore rationally related to the legitimate government purpose of promoting administrative efficiency.” Justice Chavez also rejected her argument that the City’s prohibition violated the New Mexico Constitution by adding qualifications to those needed to seek elective office; the City’s rules only imposed conditions of employment. The Court also held that the City had statutory authority to enact the prohibition.

Justice Bosson filed a specially concurring opinion in which he agreed that the New Mexico Constitution does not prohibit the City’s rule, but questions whether the rule is consistent with the spirit of our state constitution’s creation of a citizen legislature, which envisioned that ordinary citizens from all walks of life would serve in the legislature, and which is not well-served by excluding an entire category of citizens from such service.

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