Monday, December 17, 2018

New Mexico Supreme Court Upholds Textbook Loan Program

In Moses v. Ruszkowski, (NM Sup. Ct., Dec. 13, 2018), the New Mexico Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision held that New Mexico's textbook loan program does not violate the state constitution. The program provides for the loan of secular textbooks to private and parochial school students.  In 2015, the state Supreme Court held that the program was unconstitutional. (See prior posting.) However in 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court  granted certiorari, vacated the judgment and remanded the case for further consideration in light of the U.S. Supreme Court's Trinity Lutheran Church decision. (See prior posting.) Now on remand, the state Supreme Court reversed itself, saying in part:
On remand, we conclude that this Court’s previous interpretation of Article 16 XII, Section 3 raises concerns under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. To avoid constitutional concerns, we hold that the textbook loan program, which provides a generally available public benefit to students, does not result in the use of public funds in support of private schools as prohibited by Article XII, Section 3. We also hold that the textbook loan program is consistent with Article IV, Section 31 of the New Mexico Constitution, which addresses appropriations for educational purposes, and Article IX, Section 14 of the New Mexico Constitution, which limits “any donation to or in aid of any person, association or public or private corporation.”
Chief Justice Nakamura and Justice Clingman dissented. Courthouse News Service reports on the decision.