New Mexico's Woman of the Year: C. Shannon Bacon

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

C. Shannon Bacon is one of USA TODAY’s Women of the Year, a recognition of women who have made a significant impact in their communities and across the country. The program launched in 2022 as a continuation of Women of the Century, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. Meet this year’s honorees at

C. Shannon Bacon has served her state as a justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court since 2019 and as the chief justice for nearly two years. She is only the sixth woman to hold the top judicial leadership role in the state’s history.

Bacon attended Creighton University in Nebraska earning a bachelor’s degree and juris doctor before returning to her hometown of Albuquerque. She continues to reside in New Mexico with her wife, Twila Firmature.

Bacon got her legal start as a clerk for the Honorable A. Joseph Alarid in the New Mexico Court of Appeals and went on to become a partner in a private legal practice in Albuquerque.

When a vacancy appeared in the Second Judicial District in New Mexico, Bacon made the decision to “put (her) hat in the ring” and join public service. She was appointed to the court by Gov. Bill Richardson and served as the presiding civil judge.

In 2019, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed Bacon to the New Mexico Supreme Court. She took the oath of office on her nephews, Tristan and R.J. Bacon.

The New Mexico Supreme Court has a tradition of sharing the role of chief justice among the five presiding justices. Every two years, the justices vote for who will be given the chance to lead next. Bacon succeeded Justice Michael Vigil, who continues to serve on the court.

New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon poses for a photo next to the portrait of Justice Mary Walters, the first female New Mexico Supreme Court justice, on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, at the New Mexico Supreme Court in Sante Fe.
New Mexico Supreme Court Chief Justice C. Shannon Bacon poses for a photo next to the portrait of Justice Mary Walters, the first female New Mexico Supreme Court justice, on Friday, Jan. 12, 2024, at the New Mexico Supreme Court in Sante Fe.

The New Mexico Supreme Court, with Bacon as one of its members, has taken on many notable causes in recent years. Notably, the judiciary is partnering with other organizations to expand legal services in the state to address serious legal deserts. Three New Mexico counties have no legal providers to turn to.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the court placed a state-level moratorium on evictions to ensure New Mexicans were not left houseless. The court has also implemented the Eviction Prevention and Diversion Program to help facilitate resolutions to landlord-tenant cases before they reach the courtroom.

In late 2023, the New Mexico Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case State of New Mexico v. Board of County Commissioners for Lea County which presented the court with the question whether abortion is a right protected by the state constitution. The New Mexico Attorney General argued the constitution does, in fact do so. The court has yet to release its official opinion.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Who paved the way for you?

Lots of people paved the way for me, but specifically I would identify the five female justices that came before me – Justice Mary Walters, Justice Pamela Minzner, Justice Petra Jimenez Maes, Justice Barbara Vigil and Justice Judith Nakamura.

What is your proudest moment, and do you have a lowest?

There's a lot of proud moments but one that I can visualize in my head … was when I was first sworn into the (New Mexico) Supreme Court and I'm standing taking the oath on my nephews. That is a moment in time that I will never forget because of the importance of the moment. Kind of the enormity of it, but also to be there with my family and my nephews to be a part of that was a really proud moment.

Lowest moments come at, in particular as a judge, when the resolution to a legal problem really doesn't do anybody any good. So people can come and present various arguments to you as a judge and this isn't helping anyone. It's not advancing anybody's needs or goals. Those are our low moments.

Thinking about in particular during that foreclosure crisis, the inequity in how those cases were coming before us, I think was a low moment for any judge who was thinking about what that meant for the people who suddenly weren't going to have a home.

Is there an area of cases that the court is specifically interested in taking right now?

That's a hard question. I can tell you there's something that we're interested in because we've publicly said something about it in a footnote.

For a very long time the state courts have, when they're looking at constitutional questions, has started with the federal constitution and then go to the state constitution. So as a result of that, you have a lot of federal constitutional law that's been developed all throughout the country. But state constitutions happen and our state constitution is really important and it's different than the federal constitution. It provides different rights, greater rights, sometimes it's identical. But we're really interested in cases that can come before us where we can start to develop state constitutional law.

Lots of constitutional cases fall into that … It was in the redistricting case that we said that in our opinion. So any constitutional case can lead us to think about that. The case that we heard on (Jan. 8), which is about the public health orders and the governor's power within that statute – is it the legislature, is it the governor, has anybody violated the constitution, should we be weighing in on it at all? – is all grounded in state constitutional questions.

And so lots of cases that come to us that have the kind of, what the public thinks of as kind of the big societal thing. All of those cases are vehicles for developing our state constitutional law. We've asked attorneys to bring us more robust arguments based on the state constitution, not just the federal constitution.

What is your definition of courage?

Courage is persistence in the face of fear.

As a young person in high school, I had a soccer coach who would talk to us about obstacles are things that you perceive in your mind. And the obstacles that you perceive in your mind are created by fear of failure, fear of not doing it right, fear of, you know, fill in the blank … Which is human to have fear about the unknown or putting yourself out there in whatever way, and so to break through that that's where that persistence or perseverance has to come in.

Is there a guiding principle or mantra that you tell yourself?

There was one that I read this morning, and I thought to myself, “I have to remember this” and it fits that mantra type of question … A cousin of mine posted this on social media and I'm not going to be able to describe who the owner of the quote is but the quote was, “Even the fiercest of birds have to fly through fog.” And I've been thinking about that all day today.

You think of the fierceness of birds being eagles and blue jays – blue jays are surprisingly mean – you think about, you know, birds live out in this very vulnerable world, but there's ones that are, they're predators. They still have to fly through fog. And so humans, you can be the toughest person in the world and you still have to walk through fog.

Who do you look up to?

There's a lot of people I look up to, but I think in that really formative way my grandmothers without question had really profound impact on me as a young person. And then as I grew up, they were both women who did unusual things for their time.

My father's mother (Carrie Bacon) – my grandfather died when my dad was really young, so she was a single parent raising three kids. She was a teacher. And she figured out how to put food on the table and … focus on education. And you know, that's an amazing thing all by itself.

My mom's mom (Ada Pick), who is the New Mexico side of my family … she started out as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. And she went from small northern New Mexico community to the next one. You know, she'd be that one room school teacher in Stanley then the next year she'd be in Lamy and Cimarron. And she, after she had children, earned her master's degree and did that traveling for the summers out of state with two kids in tow. And then she became very involved in statewide education. And so she was a person as a woman who did all of these things and had a focus that women didn't often have in that era.

And so she would (say), “You can be anything you want to be. It doesn't matter that you're a girl. Don't let that enter your mind. You're smart, you work hard, you can be president of the United States.” And that was her message to me and my sibling and cousins our whole childhood. And so she gave me kind of chutzpah a little bit and sort of that courage to put myself out there.

How do you overcome adversity?

It goes back to that idea of persistence. Adversity comes at you in a million different ways. You can have adversity in the workplace, in your career. You can have personal adversity, whether it's you know, for me, death of a parent (mother, Peggy Bacon) … So perseverance is part of it.

And I know for a long time, people talked about leaning in, multitasking, all of those kinds of things. Sometimes the way to get through adversity is not to do those things. It's to single task and really focus on what it is that's creating that adversity and planning for how to navigate through it or around it.

I’m tired of multitasking. I need to single task and I’ve been trying to really do that for the last couple of years. Less like let me brush my teeth and read a brief at the same time. Just read the brief.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Care less about what other people think.

For a long time I thought, “is that kind of a girl thing?” You know when you're in high school, you spend a lot of time thinking about what other people think and it’s terrible. But I now see it in my nephews, so I think it's just a youth thing. But I think it translates as you get older, too.

And it's not to not care at all about what people think, but care about what the people who you trust think. Not what everybody thinks about you know, how do I dress, what does my hair look like, my career choices, my life choices, whatever it is.

Trust the people that you trust and listen to what they think, but don't listen to all of that noise. And I wish my 18-year old-self knew more about that.

Leah Romero is the trending reporter at the Las Cruces Sun-News and can be reached at 575-418-3442, or @rromero_leah on X, formerly Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: New Mexico's Woman of the Year: C. Shannon Bacon