Despite the confirmation of Margaret Strickland to the court, the District of New Mexico needs more judges, with a long pending Albuquerque vacancy from 2019 and a future Santa Fe based vacancy opening next year. The Biden Administration has nominated Albuquerque attorney David Urias to fill the latter seat.
An Albuquerque native, David Herrera Urias received his B.A. from the University of New Mexico in 1997 and a J.D. from the University of New Mexico School of Law in 2001. Urias then clerked for Judge Vanessa Ruiz on the D.C. Court of Appeals and then worked as an Associate at Fried Frank in New York City for two years.
In 2004, Urias returned to New Mexico to work at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF). In 2008, he became a Partner at Freedman Boyd Hollander Goldberg Urias & Ward P.A., where he currently works.
History of the Seat
Urias has been nominated for a future vacancy on the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico. This seat will open on January 1, 2022, when Judge Martha Vazquez takes senior status. This is a little unusual as there is a currently pending two-year-old Albuquerque based vacancy without a nominee, and Vazquez is based in Santa Fe.
While Urias started his career at the firm of Fried Frank, he made his name as a civil rights attorney in New Mexico. For example, while at MALDEF, Urias sued the U.S. Border Patrol on behalf of three undocumented students who were arrested while at high school. See Anna Macias Aguayo, Hispanic Group Sues Over Arrest of Teens at High School, A.P. State & Local Wire, May 25, 2005. He also sued Roger Barnett, a vigilante border watcher, for pointing guns at suspected undocumented individuals and for physically imprisoning and assaulting them. See Randal C. Archibold, Immigrant Groups Suing Vigilantes; Rights Groups Trying to Curb Armed Border Monitors By Going After Their Money, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Nov. 24, 2006. The suit ended in a mixed verdict, with the jury finding Barnett liable for assault and infliction of emotional distress, but found him not guilty of battery and false imprisonment. Arthur Rothstein, Jury: Rancher Didn’t Violate Migrants’ Rights, A.P. State & Local Wire, Feb. 18, 2009.
Urias also represented MALDEF in suing Otero County, New Mexico, for allegedly launching illegal deportation raids against the local Hispanic population. Alicia A. Caldwell, Civil Rights Groups Sue County Over Impromptu Immigration Raids, A.P. State & Local Wire, Oct. 17, 2007. The suit was ultimately settled after the Sheriff’s Department agreed to revise its Operational Procedures and to pay monetary damages to the families targeted.
Even after leaving MALDEF, Urias has been involved in a number of civil rights suits, including one against Gov. Susana Martinez’s attempt to crack down of undocumented immigrants getting driver’s licenses. See Marc Lacey, License Access in New Mexico is Heated Issue, N.Y. Times, Aug. 24, 2011. The suit resulted in a judge blocking Martinez’s plan for verification of licenses issued to immigrants. See Barry Massey, Judge Blocks NM Plan to Verify Immigrant Licenses, A.P., Sept. 1, 2011. Urias also sued the New Mexico government to block officials from withholding tax refunds from immigrants using an alternative tax identification number provided by the federal government. Morgan Lee, New Mexico Officials, Immigrants Clash Over Tax Returns, A.P. State & Local, Apr. 1, 2016. He also successfully obtained a court ruling allowing inmates to breast-feed their infants. Phaedra Haywood, Judge: Breast-Feed Ban in Prison Violates Constitution, Santa Fe New Mexican, July 1, 2017.
Urias has a few political contributions to his name, all to New Mexico Democrats totalling $600 over his entire career.
Urias has frequently, both in connection to his litigation and independently, spoken on the law. For example, Urias spoke against efforts by local officials to crack down on illegal immigration, arguing that this leads to those without documentation not wanting to call the police and leading to less safety. See Damien Cave, Local Officials Adopt New, Harder Tactics on Illegal Immigrants, N.Y. Times, June 9, 2008.
Having litigated in New Mexico state and federal courts for the past twenty years, Urias can be considered to be qualified for a federal district court seat. Nonetheless, he is likely to attract opposition based on his civil rights work, and his suits on behalf of immigrants.