Brief Challenges Sanctions in New Mexican Voting Rights Appeal Before Tenth Circuit


Today, attorneys who had represented Latino voters in an Albuquerque voting rights case, Baca v. Berry, filed their opening brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, challenging a District Court order imposing sanctions on them for unduly prolonging court proceedings after they had already moved to dismiss the case.  The voters originally brought the case to challenge the City of Albuquerque’s redistricting plan for city council districts.  After the case was brought, Albuquerque voters passed a referendum that altered the way the city council is elected.  In light of this change in the law, the voters sought to dismiss their suit without prejudice, which would have allowed them to bring another lawsuit if the new voting law failed to fix problems with the map. But the city sought to have the case dismissed with prejudice, which would have prevented plaintiffs from filing another challenge. The judge declined to dismiss the case, instead putting it on hold until the results of several upcoming city council elections were known.  Subsequently the judge dismissed the case with prejudice and granted the city’s motion to sanction plaintiffs’ attorneys for prolonging the case, ordering them to pay $48,000.  The attorneys are appealing, and the city is also appealing, seeking additional monetary sanctions against the voters who brought the case. 

“The District Court’s decision was outrageous in itself but if it is not overturned, its impact will be disastrous for voting rights in the country because voters will afraid to turn to the courts to fight vote suppression efforts for fear of sanctions,” said J. Gerald Hebert, Campaign Legal Center Executive Director.  “For Albuquerque City officials to seek sanctions for a delay ordered by the court is bad enough, but to seek to intimidate voters with gratuitous monetary sanctions for trying to protect their right to vote is unconscionable.  To attempt to make citizens fear their recourse to the courts is government intimidation at its worst.  This case threatens to turn back the clock on voting rights in this country.”      

The Campaign Legal Center is representing the plaintiff voters in the city’s appeal and the law firm of Jenner and Block is representing the plaintiffs’ attorneys in their appeal. Today’s brief is filed by Jenner on behalf of the attorneys. The Campaign Legal Center will file a brief in February challenging the city’s pursuit of monetary sanctions against the individual voters.

“We are grateful for the involvement of the excellent attorneys at Jenner and Block in taking on this important case,” said Hebert.  “Jenner's legal team was recruited for this case by the Voting Rights Institute, a joint program launched earlier this year by the Campaign Legal Center and the American Constitution Society.”

To read the brief, click here.