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Four Questions Ahead of Mexico's Upcoming Vote on Judicial Reform

Image - Julio Rios-Figueroa

A critical judicial reform will be enacted in Mexico in the coming months. The reform will likely be approved as soon as September if everything goes according to the plans laid out by President López Obrador, President-Elect Claudia Sheinbaum, and the leaders of their legislative coalition led by Morena.

Almost every day there is news, sometimes contradictory, regarding the specifics of the reform. Laid out here  are four general questions as a guide to assess both the motivations for the reform and its content ahead of the upcoming legislative vote in September.

1. Will the reform call for the popular election of all federal judges (approximately 1,600) or for the popular election of only those at the top of the judicial hierarchy (Supreme Court, Judicial Council, Electoral Tribunal, and probably a newly created “Disciplinary Tribunal”)? The former, which may not be exaggerated to call the “nuclear option”, would not only produce politically aligned judges but also will likely create several logistical challenges and inefficiencies for the resolution of legal cases. The latter option would reduce the logistical challenges.

2. Will the reform call for changes only in the judiciary or also in the public prosecutorial authority? There is ample evidence (for instance here or here) that the public prosecutorial body is, much more than the judiciary, in need of a deep reform to professionalize and de-politicize investigations into crimes at all levels. It would not be a good sign if the prosecutorial authority is spared during the current opportunity to make a profound reform to the entire justice system.

3. Will the reform call for changes only in the federal judiciary or also in the state judiciaries? Again, there is ample evidence (for instance here or here) that the state judiciaries, much more than the federal one, are in need of a deep reform to professionalize and de-politicize. Not including the state judiciaries in the reform would also send a signal about the motivation behind the reform - whether its purpose is to build a stronger rule of law or to politically capture the courts.

4. Will the reform include a serious expansion of access to not only the courts, but more broadly, justice for millions of citizens who cannot afford the use of the justice system?Studies indicate that facilitating access to courts would "democratize" the judiciary more so than the direct election of judges.  Strengthening the public defender’s office, simplifying and lowering the cost of the amparo suits, or establishing funding mechanisms for the support structures for public litigation would all serve to democratize Mexico's judicial branch.

The passage of the judicial reform that pushes for the "nuclear option" - the popular election of judges at all levels of Mexico's judiciary - would set off alarm bells, signifying a significant threat to rule of law in Mexico, without materially improving access to justice.

About the Author

Image - Julio Rios-Figueroa

Julio Rios-Figueroa

Former Fellow;
Professor, ITAM (Mexico City)
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Mexico Institute

The Mexico Institute seeks to improve understanding, communication, and cooperation between Mexico and the United States by promoting original research, encouraging public discussion, and proposing policy options for enhancing the bilateral relationship. A binational Advisory Board, chaired by Luis Téllez and Earl Anthony Wayne, oversees the work of the Mexico Institute.   Read more