Court Affirms that Education is a Constitutional Right in New Mexico

SANTA FE, NM - Yesterday, Judge Sarah Singleton, in the First Judicial District Court of New Mexico, rejected the State's Motion to Dismiss in Martinez v. State of New Mexico, a case brought by MALDEF on behalf of parents and students who are low-income, English Language Learners ("ELL"), and/or receiving special education services. In this foundational case, the students charged the State with violating their fundamental right to a sufficient education, and their right to equal protection and due process of the law as required under the New Mexico Constitution.

"By concluding that courts can and should defend the right to education, this landmark ruling ensures that students and their rights cannot be held hostage to political whim or government inaction," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "That New Mexico courts have not followed the U.S. Supreme Court into the abyss of abandoning the critical right to education is a cause for celebration."

The suit is the first ever challenge of the state's provision of education to at-risk students, and the first to seek injunctive relief under the New Mexico Constitution for students with disabilities. MALDEF's landmark suit asserts that the constitutional rights of economically disadvantaged, ELL, and other at-risk student populations had been violated through a series of state-created arbitrary obstacles, including unfair and non-transparent school accountability grading and teacher evaluation systems that drive quality teachers and leaders from schools that disproportionately enroll ELL and low-income students, the failure to expand pre-kindergarten programs to ensure attendance for all at-risk students, and the failure to fully support and implement state laws meant to provide cultural programs that are essential to a sufficient education as required under the New Mexico Constitution.

In its Motion to Dismiss, the State argued that the case should not move forward because the plaintiffs' claims are political questions and education is not a fundamental right. Yesterday, Judge Singleton rejected those claims, and affirmed MALDEF's argument that education is a fundamental right under the New Mexico Constitution.

"Now that the Court has rejected the State's attempt to block the students' access to the courts, we look forward to putting the public education system on trial," said MALDEF Southwest Regional Counsel, David Hinojosa. "The Court's well-founded decision will pave the way to ensuring justice for New Mexican families."

In addition to Hinojosa, other attorneys involved in the case include MALDEF Staff Attorneys, Marisa Bono and Ernest Herrera; and plaintiffs' local counsel, David Garcia, of Santa Fe.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund