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López Obrador urges educational changes to reform ‘rotten’ judiciary

Mexico’s president also suggested judges be elected by popular vote and that a 10-year waiting period for public service positions be eliminated.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s president Wednesday pushed on with his feud with what he called the country’s “rotten” judicial branch, proposing changes to education and regulation of the legal profession and judge selection processes. 

“There must be an educational reform, fundamental, moving forward, because it is not a matter of judges, magistrates, ministers, it has to do with the legal profession, with training,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during his morning press conference. “Curricula have to be reviewed, there has to be a common core that has to do with humanism, honesty, values.”

López Obrador has sparred with the Supreme Court and its justices over several issues during his term, from electricity reform to mandatory pretrial detention to the appointment of Mexico’s first woman as chief justice

The current strife between the two powers stems from López Obrador’s sundry attempts to change Mexico’s electoral system. The constitutional reform with which he began his crusade failed, prompting him to get a “Plan B” legislative reform ungracefully pushed through the Congress. 

The president has harangued the Supreme Court ever since it placed an indefinite suspension on that legislation this past Friday, prompting him to tout plain old democracy as a supposedly novel “Plan C” to the reform. 

While he added that there are “honorable exceptions” to those he claims are corrupt lawyers and judges, he said honesty in the legal profession “is not the rule, it’s the exception.”

But López Obrador — who himself failed several classes in economics and political science as an undergraduate and took 14 years to complete his studies — does not seem to have his facts straight about the legal profession and the training required to practice it, according to lawyers consulted by Courthouse News. 

“During the first year of many curricula, in addition to giving classes on theory and practice, they also provide students with a solid base of ethics,” said Rodrigo Brito Melgarejo, a law professor at Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM). 

First-year UNAM law students, he said, take classes like “Being an Undergraduate Student and the Culture of Legality” and “Professional Ethics for Jurists.”

Family lawyer Arelí Rey Flores, an UNAM alumna who has practiced in Mexico City for nearly three decades, agreed with Brito, saying “they teach things correctly” in the law school there. 

“The thing is, in practice, you get all kinds of people,” she said. “I’m not going to tell you that corruption doesn’t exist, but we’re not all like that.”

Both Brito and Rey called out the president for his statement saying the judicial branch should do away with a requirement that lawyers wait at least 10 years after graduation before assuming a position in public service. 

While the Constitution requires that for some posts, such as Supreme Court justice, law graduates must wait a decade, “the truth is that this is an exception,” Brito said. 

“In many cases, you can go into public service without fulfilling this requirement,” he continued. “The president’s statements were not accurate.”

López Obrador also suggested a judicial selection process based on popular elections, rather than political appointments, something the lawyers deemed ill-advised. 

“The popular election of judges and magistrates could diminish the independence that members of the judiciary should enjoy,” said Brito. “Moreover, this selection method offers few guarantees of professional competence and could expose judges to political pressure and even — contrary to what he is going for — to corruption, especially if they have to collect resources to conduct their campaigns.”

Rey said she believed López Obrador to be planting political seeds for his successor to cultivate. She pointed to Adán Augusto López, a lawyer and one of four front-runners in the lineup for the 2024 elections. 

“He is a lawyer and one of the strongest candidates for López Obrador’s successor,” she said. “Maybe the president sees he is running out of time and is hoping that someone like Adán Augusto López can end up finishing the job.”

Categories: Government International Law

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