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Mexico Supreme Court justice moves to undo National Guard transfer

Mexico’s high court is set to take on one of the most contentious policies of the López Obrador administration, and legal scholars say where the chips will fall is anyone’s guess.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — A justice on Mexico’s Supreme Court Tuesday announced an initiative aiming to revoke the transfer of the country’s National Guard to the army. 

The Senate approved the law mandating the transfer this past September amid fierce resistance from opposition politicians and civil society. 

Although he initially created the National Guard to be a civilian security force, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador later switched course and made several attempts to shift administrative and operative control of the corps to the Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena). 

After a constitutional reform failed, he pushed through an executive order to get the bill voted on in Congress. 

Justice Juan Luis González Alcántara, who proposed the initiative, said in the resolution text that the civil nature of the National Guard is one of the “organic-institutional limits” set on it by the Mexican Constitution. 

The proposal also aims to find unconstitutional the use of the armed forces for public safety operations. López Obrador opposed his predecessors' use of the military in matters of public safety, but had a change of heart after becoming president.

“The use of the military in public security tasks must be strictly exceptional,” the text reads. “No military authority can interfere in public security tasks that the federal constitution consecrates, exclusively, to civil authorities.”

News of the case was welcomed by activists who oppose what they call López Obrador’s furtherance of the militarization of his predecessors. 

“We’ve said it before: militarization is not the way to address public safety,” said militarization watchdog Causa En Común in a tweet expressing its support for the initiative. 

Legal scholars said the proposal is a step in the right direction toward constitutionality. 

“The constitution is very clear,” said Javier Martín Reyes, a law professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. “The National Guard is a civil institution and should be assigned to the Secretariat of Security and Civilian Protection. It is unconstitutional for Sedena to exercise operative and administrative control over it.”

Eight of the court’s 11 justices must vote in favor of the initiative in order to rule the transfer unconstitutional. The current makeup of the court could lead to an interesting showdown over the issue.

Three judges on the bench have made reputations for themselves as sympathetic to the policies of the current administration. The López Obrador appointees Loretta Ortiz Ahlf and Yasmín Esquivel Mossa have regularly voted in favor of the president’s projects, and Arturo Zaldívar was criticized for politicizing the judiciary during his time as chief justice. 

These three are all but guaranteed to side with what the president wants on this one, according to Daira Arana Aguilar, director general of the Mexico City-based think tank Global Thought. 

“Since this project is pivotal for keeping the National Guard under Sedena control, we’ll surely find that these justices vote against the initiative or reserve some considerations,” she said. 

Legal scholar Sergio López Ayllón commended the initiative and Justice González Alcántara, but said he was not sure that it will be able to get the eight votes needed to declare the transfer unconstitutional. 

The fourth vote against unconstitutionality could come from another López Obrador appointee, Ana Margarita Ríos Farjat, said López. 

“Let’s hope I’m wrong,” he said. 

Still, a judge’s appointing president is not a clear indication of how he or she will vote. Case in point: Justice González Alcántara himself was appointed by López Obrador in December 2018.

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Categories / Appeals, Government, International

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