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Saturday, December 26, 2009

NM Court Says Public Comments at County Commission Meetings Must Remain Free

On December 22, a New Mexico court ruled that the Valencia County Commission could not ban local resident Michael Wood from attending or making public comments at commission meetings, according to a statement released by the ACLU of New Mexico. Wood alleged that the ban, issued by the commission on September 16, 2009, was a prior restraint and discriminated against the content of his comments, violating his First Amendment right to free speech. Arguing on behalf of Wood, the ACLU of New Mexico obtained a preliminary injunction from the 13th Judicial District, allowing him to attend and participate in the public comments section of the meetings. The court granted the extraordinary relief and ruled that under the First Amendment, the commission did not have a legal right to ban Wood.

“We are pleased that the a New Mexico court has reaffirmed that individuals have the right to criticize their elected officials on issues of public importance during the public comments section of county commission meetings,” said Peter Simonson, Executive Director of the ACLU of New Mexico. “Non-disruptive public comments cannot be suppressed simply because the commissioners do not like what is being said.”

This ruling comes on the heels of a similar controversy in Truth or Consequences, NM, where the city commission instituted a rule that required all public comments be written and submitted in advance for scrutiny. The ACLU of New Mexico sent a letter to the City Attorney’s office notifying them that the rule is unconstitutional. The rule has since been dropped.

“We are hopeful that other local governing bodies throughout New Mexico will note the outcome of these cases and refrain from initiating similar rules and actions that inhibit free speech,” said Simonson.

“Local governments created these public comments sections precisely so that citizens could speak their minds. Censoring or suppressing this speech is not only unconstitutional, but also defeats the purpose of giving the public a chance to comment during these meetings.”

ACLU-NM cooperating attorney Steven M. Chavez, ACLU-NM Co-legal director Phil Davis, and ACLU-NM Staff Attorney Brendan Egan represent Mr. Wood.

December 26, 2009 at 12:31 PM in Civil Liberties, Justice | Permalink


This is very good news indeed.

It is hard to imagine a more pure example of our rights to free speech and to petition our government, than public forums.

The arrogance of these people is appalling!

Posted by: ched macquigg | Dec 27, 2009 7:16:43 AM

Our Congressman in the 3rd District, Ben Ray Lujan, handles this problem of having to listen to the pesky citizens' comments by requiring that an appointment be made a couple of weeks in advance to speak with him privately for 5 minutes when he is in town. Then he only meets with a few selected people who agree with whatever he wants to talk about. Other times, he only meets with an invited audience of mostly other elected officials who pat him on the back and tell him what a good job he is doing. People such as myself who are disabled and can't stand in the cold and rain to see him pass by are simply SOL. George Bush started it, and now it is all the rage for politicians to refuse to hear from citizens.

Posted by: Robert Jones | Dec 27, 2009 11:08:22 AM

Robert, have you called his office and expressed your views and asked for a response or a meeting? Do you think he has time to meet with every voter whenever that voter demands it? He would have time for nothing else. From what I know you sign up when he is in town and there is no screening. It is first come first served. Sign up.

Posted by: Las Vegas | Dec 27, 2009 1:14:51 PM

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