NM AG Hector Balderas not part of coalition that filed brief

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FARMINGTON — A coalition of more than 20 state attorneys general, two governors and another group of two dozen members of Congress have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the city of Bloomfield's appeal of a ruling requiring it to remove the Ten Commandments monument that is displayed in front of City Hall. 

The coalition that includes the governors of Maine and Kentucky, as well as state attorneys general filed an amicus — or friend-of-the-court — brief Thursday. New Mexico's attorney general, Hector Balderas, was not part of the coalition.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General, said in an email today that the office generally does not file amicus briefs during the petition stage.

"If the Supreme Court decides to hear the case, Attorney General Balderas will determine whether to file an amicus brief, evaluating the interests at stake, including New Mexicans’ constitutional rights," Hallinan said. 

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U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., who is seeking the GOP nomination for governor, is one of the two dozen members of Congress asking for the appeal to be heard. The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Bloomfield in November 2016.

"As the numerous briefs filed in this case affirm, Americans shouldn't be forced to censor religion's role in history simply to appease someone who is offended by it or who has a political agenda to remove all traces of religion from the public square," Alliance Defending Freedom senior counsel Kevin Theriot said in a press release. The Arizona nonprofit organization is representing Bloomfield in the case.  

Andrew Schultz, an attorney with the Rodey Law Firm who is representing the American Civil Liberties Union in the case and previously reviewed petitions for a writ of certiorari, said the coalition and Congress members' briefs mean "absolutely nothing" when the U.S. Supreme Court reviews petitions.

"What matters is the merits of the case," he said. 

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When it comes to that, Schultz said every court that has heard the case has come to the same conclusion — that the monument should be removed.

The ACLU must file a response by early September. After that response is filed, groups will have the opportunity to file briefs in support of the ACLU. Four of the U.S. Supreme Court justices must vote to hear the appeal.

Schultz said it is unclear if Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch can participate because he was on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit when it heard the case. 

The coalition of attorneys general and governors supporting Bloomfield represent states that have had contested Ten Commandments displays at courthouses, government buildings, public parks or schools. The attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, lead the coalition. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that a Ten Commandments monument in Austin, Texas, was constitutional. That case, as well as a 2005 case involving a Ten Commandments display in Kentucky, are highlighted in the brief. In the Kentucky case, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 that the display was not constitutional.

Schultz said since the 2005 cases, the U.S. Supreme Court has had multiple opportunities to hear Ten Commandments cases and has consistently chosen not to hear them.

The city has also received support from Jews for Religious Freedom and the Center of Islam and Religious Freedom. The two organizations say the 10th Circuit's decision could put minority religions like Islam and Judaism at risk.

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"By ordering the Ten Commandments monument to be pulled down, the Tenth Circuit stigmatizes one of the most prominent examples of Jewish contribution to public life in America," the Jews for Religious Freedom argues in its brief. "Such a ruling should not go unreviewed." 

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.

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