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Local judge appears before Senate Judiciary Committee

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Nearly two months after she was nominated to fill a federal court vacancy, Judge Kea Riggs of the 5th Judicial District of New Mexico was in Washington D.C Wednesday, where she testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

A Roswell resident and Chaves County’s first female district court judge, Riggs was nominated by President Donald Trump for an open seat on the United States District Court for the District of New Mexico, following the retirement of Judge Christina Armijo.

The Judiciary Committee is tasked with considering federal judicial appointments. If a majority of senators on the committee votes to move forward with the nomination, it will go to the full Senate for a vote.

Riggs and three other federal court nominees appeared before the committee composed of 10 Democrat and 12 Republican senators.

A native of rural Oklahoma and 1983 high school graduate of the New Mexico Military Institute, Riggs in her opening statement spoke of herself as the product of a family where her parents instilled in her and her three siblings the importance of a strong work ethic and helping others.

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“One of my father’s favorite sayings was ‘no matter who you are or what you do, when you get up in the morning and get dressed, you put on your pants one leg at a time just like everyone else, and don’t forget that. And I never have,” she said.

After earning a Juris Doctorate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law in 1990, Riggs went on to work as a prosecutor in New Mexico’s 3rd and 5th judicial districts. Her career also consisted of working as a children’s court attorney with the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department and as an attorney in private practice.

Riggs has also been an adjunct professor at the Eastern New Mexico State University-Roswell and New Mexico Highlands University, and a Magistrate Court Judge on the U.S. District Court of New Mexico.

In 2014, New Mexico’s then-Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Riggs as a judge on New Mexico’s 5th Judicial District, which is composed of Chaves, Eddy and Lea counties. That same year, she ran as a Republican and was unopposed in her election to retain the seat.

Following her opening statement, the senators asked Riggs and the nominees about their experience and the role of the judiciary.

When asked by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R- Iowa, if it was ever appropriate to consider foreign law in determining the meaning of a statute, Riggs said she never encountered such as situation.

She added that although she believes it is the requirement for a good judge to consider everything put before them in making a decision, it is left to the judge’s discretion how much weight it should be afforded.

Grassley also said asked Riggs and the other nominees if it was ever appropriate for judges to consider their own values or policy views when determining what a law means.

“Senator, the simple answer is no. I would fully and faithfully follow the law and I take an oath to do that,” she said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, asked Riggs about her thoughts on the intersection of race and the criminal justice system.

Riggs said she thinks some strides have been made, but that it is clear that a disparity exists in the populations of whites and racial minorities that are incarcerated.

“There are a lot of good studies, good things going on out there, studying that will give us some information that can be used in the future and to continue to move forward,” she said.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, asked Riggs and the other nominees on their personal views on past precedents in cases, giving Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision which ruled that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional.

Riggs responded that she was appearing before the committee not only as a judicial nominee, but as a sitting judge.

“And with that caution, I would tell you that equal protection of the law is important in the United States. It is something we work on every day and the Brown case is the gold standard to exemplify that,” she said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.