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Mexico Supreme Court invalidates part of ‘Plan B’ electoral reform

This first legal challenge to the reform was less consequential than another that is to come, but legal scholars said the ruling bodes well for electoral democracy in Mexico.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled Monday that part of a suite of laws aiming to reform the country’s electoral system is unconstitutional. 

Nine of the court’s 11 justices voted in favor of the initiative on grounds that the reform was rushed through Congress without proper debate. A supermajority of eight votes is necessary to rule a law unconstitutional.

The two votes against the initiative came from Justices Yasmín Esquivel Mossa — who continues to enjoy her seat on the court despite having plagiarized both her undergraduate and doctoral theses — and Loreta Ortiz Ahlf. Both have been criticized for partiality for the policies of the executive branch. 

The move throws another wrench in the gears set in motion by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who has seen several of his controversial initiatives make their way to the high court. 

When his first attempt to reform Mexico’s Constitution failed, López Obrador put through a batch of legislative reforms that he termed his “Plan B” electoral reform. 

“The challenged decree violates the right to freedom of expression, transparency, access to public information and accountability,” said Justice Alberto Pérez Dayán, who brought the initiative before the court, during debate. 

“Neither the Chamber of Deputies nor the Senate provided spaces in which the citizenry could actively participate in the discussion of the regulations of social communication, with an impact on electoral processes,” he said.

Filed by members of opposition parties in the Congress and one state-level political party, the challenge also claimed that the Plan B laws in question violate Indigenous communities’ right to be consulted of such political changes with ample anticipation. Ten of the court’s 11 justices rule this part of the plan unconstitutional. 

Mexico's legal community watched the livestream of the debate closely when it came to issues of violations of proper legislative procedure, the issue they considered to be the most important to the case.

Former Chief Justice Arturo Zaldívar pointed to what he called a “corrupt defect in the legislative procedure” as reason for his vote for unconstitutionality of the reform.  

Justice Jorge Pardo Rebolledo noted how Mexico’s lower house of Congress took less than three hours to present, discuss and vote on the initiative in the middle of the night in December.

Although the truly contentious items in López Obrador’s Plan B are in the second part of the legislative suite, the ruling was hailed as evidence of judicial impartiality in the high court. 

“This is a great decision, one to celebrate,” said Javier Martín Reyes, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “The message is very clear: in a constitutional democracy, passing a law isn’t just raising hands and counting votes, there must be genuine debate.”

The reforms the court shot down Monday are “pernicious, but relatively limited,” Reyes said, but they augur well for the second part of the plan.

“The argument over violations to legislative procedure is an element of both challenges of the two parts of Plan B, so this means that it’s highly probable that the court will also invalidate the other part,” he said. 

López Obrador will likely respond to the ruling during his morning press conference on Tuesday, but he already has a backup plan to his backup plan. In late March he announced his “Plan C” electoral reform, for just such an occasion as Monday’s ruling. 

The plan: good old fashioned democracy. 

“Don’t vote for the conservative block!” he said in March. “Not one vote for the conservatives!”

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Categories / Appeals, Government, International, Politics

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