The pending vacancy in the Las Cruces division of the District of New Mexico has been declared a judicial emergency based on the caseloads of the judges and the extended time the seat has been open. However, the emergency may be coming to an end with the nomination of criminal defense attorney Margaret Strickland.
Born on May 24, 1980, Margaret Strickland received her B.A. from the University of Texas-El Paso in 2003 and a J.D. from New York University Law School in 2006. Strickland then spent the next five years as a Public Defender in New Mexico.
Since 2011, Strickland has worked as a partner at McGraw & Strickland LLC in Las Cruces. She was also the President of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association from 2017 to 2019.
History of the Seat
Strickland has been nominated for a seat on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico. This seat opened on July 25, 2018, when Judge Robert Brack moved to senior status. President Trump made two attempts to fill this seat, first nominating U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Sweazea and then federal prosecutor Fred Federici. However, neither nominee received a hearing due to the opposition of New Mexico Senators.
Strickland has primarily spent her career as a criminal defense attorney, spending five years as a Public Defender and ten years in private practice. Among her most notable cases, Strickland successfully won a reversal of her client’s fraud conviction before the New Mexico Court of Appeals based on insufficient evidence. She was also able to win a challenge to a defendant’s trial court conviction based on violations of his speedy trial rights and Sixth Amendment right to counsel.
On the non-criminal side, Strickland represented the family of a 13-year-old student who was nearly shot by an officer of the Las Cruces Police Department who accidentally discharged his weapon in a school. The family filed suit against the Department and the Officer.
Strickland has a few political contributions to her name, specifically two donations to Rep. Maggie Toulouse Oliver and one to former Rep. Xochilt Torres-Small.
Throughout her legal career, Strickland has addressed the criminal justice system, including as a member of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s Crime Analysis & Policy Partnership. In 2013, Strickland spoke out against cuts to the New Mexico Public Defender system. In 2017, Strickland defended New Mexico bail reforms, which were under criticism after a defendant out on bail died after opening fire on police officers. In 2018, Strickland spoke in support of the use of the pardon power in New Mexico, which Republican Gov. Susana Martinez used sparingly. Strickland noted that New Mexico does not allow expungement, which makes the pardon power even more important in restorative justice. Furthermore, in 2019, Strickland spoke out against increasing penalties for threats of mass violence, noting that “longer sentences do not deter crimes” and advocating for preventative measures.
In many ways, Strickland is a mirror image of the candidates frequently sought out by the Trump Administration for the bench. She is young, outspoken regarding the issues she holds dear, and has a distinguished legal record. While many Republicans will likely oppose Strickland based on her age and advocacy on criminal justice issues, she should nonetheless be favored for confirmation due to the narrow Democratic majority.
 State of New Mexico v. Garcia, 356 P.3d 45 (N.M. App. 2015).
 State v. Castro, 381 P.3d 694 (N.M. App. 2016).
 A.P., Lawsuit: Police Bullet at New Mexico School Harmed Student, A.P. State & Local, Mar. 25, 2020.
 See id.
 Press Release, Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, New Mexico Gov. Grisham Establishes Crime Advisory Group (June 10, 2019).
 See Anne Constable, Public Defender Cuts May Hike Costs, Jeopardize Justice, Santa Fe New Mexican, July 14, 2013.
 See Susan Montoya Bryan, Police Shooting Spurs Criticism of New Mexico’s Bail Reforms, A.P. State & Local, Aug. 28, 2017.
 Jeff Proctor, Analysis: Pardons Have Plummeted in New Mexico Under Gov. Martinez, New Mexico In Depth, May 23, 2018.
 See Mathew Brock, DA Weighs In on Criminalizing Threats of Mass Violence, Clovis News Journal, Nov. 24, 2019.