During debate of a bill on the State Senate floor that changes the method of paying New Mexico’s court interpreters, it was revealed that Governor Susana Martinez fought to exclude non-English speaking residents from serving on juries when she was a District Attorney in Las Cruces. In 2000, then-DA Susana Martinez took legal action to disqualify people who do not speak English from serving as jurors. The Constitution of New Mexico protects people who speak and read either English or Spanish. The Supreme Court denied Martinez’s request to keep Spanish-speaking people off juries.
“We hope that Gov. Martinez’s lengthy history of opposing the constitutional rights of Spanish-speaking New Mexicans will not hinder her from signing this bill if it arrives on her desk,” said Sen. Michael S. Sanchez (D-29-Benalillo and Valencia). “I am frankly disturbed by her record as DA, of which I have only recently learned. New Mexico is unique in that our Constitution explicitly protects the right of citizens who may speak Spanish instead of English to serve on juries. It is an important part of who we are.”
House Bill 89 (HB 89), ‘Court Language Access Fund’ creates a new fund to be administered by the Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) for paying court interpreters and related expenses. It removes court translators from being paid through the Jury and Witness Fee Fund. The bill passed by a vote of 40 – 0 in the Senate.
In addition to ruling against DA Susana Martinez in 2000 in the issue of excluding non-English speakers from jury service, the New Mexico Supreme Court reaffirmed the decision in 2013 in State v. Samora. The Court wrote that excusing a Spanish-speaking prospective juror violated Article VII, Section 3 of the state Constitution. That section provides that the right of any citizen to sit upon a jury may never be impaired on account of inability to speak the English or Spanish languages.
Gov. Martinez frequently speaks Spanish with residents when she travels around New Mexico.