Judge Kea Riggs – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico

Judge Kea Riggs, a New Mexico state judge has been nominated for the federal bench with the support of her home state Democratic senators.  


Riggs was born Kea Lynn Whetzal in Midwest City, Oklahoma in 1965.  Riggs attended the University of Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma Law School, graduating in 1990.[1]

After graduation, Riggs spent a year with the Las Cruces firm Cutter & Riggs, P.C. and then became an Assistant District Attorney in New Mexico’s Third Judicial District. She then joined joined the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department as a Children’s Court Attorney for a year before joining the Fifth Judicial District Attorney’s Office.[2]  In 1999, she joined Sanders, Bruin, Coll & Worley P.A. as an Associate.[3]  In 2006, Riggs left the firm to become a self-employed mediator.[4] 

From 2001 to 2014, Riggs served as a part-time U.S. Magistrate Judge in New Mexico.  She became a Judge on the Fifth Judicial District Court in New Mexico in 2014 and currently serves there.

History of the Seat

Riggs has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico.  This seat opened on February 7, 2018, when Judge Christina Armjio moved to senior status.  In April 2018, Riggs was one of four candidates recommended by New Mexico’s Democratic Senators to the White House.[5]  While Riggs was initially interviewed in May 2018, her formal vetting did not begin until February 2019.[6]  Riggs was nominated on May 3, 2019.

Legal Career

Riggs has held a number of different positions as an attorney, including serving as a mediator, state prosecutor, and in private practice.  However, overall, Riggs primarily practiced criminal law throughout her career, although she did handle some domestic and probate matters as well.[7]  By Riggs’ estimation, she has tried approximately 500 cases to trial and judgment.[8]  Interestingly, Riggs reports that virtually all of her litigation has been in state courts, not federal.[9]


Riggs has served as a U.S. Magistrate Judge on a part-time basis between 2001 and 2014 and as a District Court judge in New Mexico since her appointment in 2014.  In the former capacity, Riggs oversaw arraignments, bond hearings, and discovery disputes in federal court.  She also handled federal citations and misdemeanors.  For example, she fined a New Mexico man for hunting oryx in a federal wildlife refuge.[10]  In her latter role as a state judge, Riggs has handled both criminal and civil actions, including approximately 5000 bench trials.[11] 

Overall Assessment

As a Republican appointee with strong support from her Democratic home state senators, Riggs can be considered a consensus nominee.  While some may question Riggs’ experience (given her lack of practice in federal court), her long tenure on the bench and her lack of a controversial paper trail should ensure a smooth confirmation.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 116th Cong., Kea W. Riggs: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 1.

[2] Id. at 2.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id. at 33-34.

[6] Id. at 34.

[7] See id. at 26-27.

[8] Id.

[9] Id. at 27.

[10] AP, NM Man Gets Probation for Wildlife Area Trespass, Associated Press State & Local Wire, Mar. 3, 2011.

[11] Riggs, supra n. 1 at 11.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Judge Kevin Sweazea – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico | The Vetting Room

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