FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
December 23, 2009
CONTACT: Micah McCoy, (505) 266-5915 Ext. 1003 or email@example.com
LOS LUNAS, NM – Yesterday, 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. 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.
###The mission of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico is to maintain and advance the cause of civil liberties within the state of New Mexico, with particular emphasis on the freedom of religion, speech, press, association, and assemblage, and the right to vote, due process of law and equal protection of law, and to take any legitimate action in the furtherance and defense of such purposes. These objectives shall be sought wholly without political partisanship.