The New Mexico Supreme Court will convene on April 3 in Española as part of a civics education program allowing students to learn about and witness the role of the judicial system in our democracy.

This is the third year for the Rule of Law Program, which allows students to attend an oral argument in person or watch it virtually. The Supreme Court Law Library has prepared a lesson plan and case summary materials for participating schools. At the oral argument, attorneys will explain their positions on the legal issues in a criminal case appeal and the justices can ask questions to clarify matters. While the court deliberates in private after the hearing, attorneys for the parties will remain to answer questions from students.

Watching a court proceeding helps students understand the role of the judiciary and the “rule of law” — the principle that all people and institutions answer to the same laws and are treated equally and fairly under those laws. The judiciary upholds the “rule of law” by providing a forum to bring forth grievances, injuries and alleged violations of the law for resolution.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens once wrote that “it is the confidence in the men and women who administer the judicial system that is the true backbone of the rule of law.” In the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Marbury v. Madison, Justice John Marshall reminded us that “it is emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases, must of necessity expound and interpret the rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the courts must decide on the operation of each.”

The first two years of the Rule of Law Program were incredibly successful, notwithstanding the limits imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. Last year, the court held an in-person oral argument in Las Cruces and provided access to the public through a live stream. We plan to do the same this year at the Nick Salazar Center for the Fine Arts on the campus of Northern New Mexico College. Schools are invited to have their students attend.

The oral argument on April 3 will begin at 1 p.m. The court will consider a case – State v. King – that raises questions about state and federal constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The case involves a traffic stop in Farmington and subsequent arrest of the driver on an outstanding warrant. The vehicle was towed to an impound lot and a search warrant was obtained. A central legal question is whether the constitution allows law enforcement in New Mexico to seize a person’s vehicle after an arrest without “exigent circumstances.” That, generally speaking, means something so urgent that it requires immediate action and creates an exception to the general requirement to obtain a warrant under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article II, Section 10 of the New Mexico Constitution.

Schools should contact Tamara Mitchell in my office, at 505-827-4932 or [email protected], if they are interested in having students attend the oral argument in person or remotely. I also am available to visit schools or student groups to discuss the judicial process and rule of law if they are unable to attend the oral argument in person

On behalf of each member of the court, we look forward to this opportunity to engage students in learning more about our judicial system and its role in our democracy.