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Morena announces reform to elect Mexico Supreme Court justices by popular vote

President López Obrador repeated accusations that the judicial branch is “rotten,” but experts said that his suggested reform will not rid it of the corruption that does exist.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — High-ranking members of Mexico’s ruling Morena party announced plans to reform the country’s judiciary by electing Supreme Court justices by popular vote, rather than political appointment. 

“It’s the only way to have representation of the people [in the high court], because it will be the citizens who elect them,” said President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in his morning press conference Tuesday. 

After repeating accusations that the branch is “rotten,” he went on to float the possibility of the judiciary — as well as the executive and legislative branches — presenting candidates for justiceships. 

The president’s comments came the day after Mexico’s Supreme Court invalidated part of his electoral reform on grounds that it violates constitutionally mandated rights to proper legislative procedures, among other issues. 

A spokesperson from López Obrador’s office declined to answer questions about the proposal.

Later Tuesday, Federal Deputy Ignacio Mier Velazco announced his party’s intention to present such an initiative in Mexico’s lower house of Congress. 

Speaking at a press conference, Mier accused the court of overstepping the Chamber of Deputies’ rules and regulations. 

“They didn’t look deeply into the matter, [to see] if the law was good or bad, if it improved public life in Mexico, if it improved the relationship of the government with the media, if the media had the opportunity to guarantee the right of Mexicans to be informed,” he said. 

Mier’s office likewise did not respond to inquiries. 

The proposed reform would completely rework the nature of Mexico’s high court, according to legal scholar Sergio López Ayllón.

“The judiciary’s legitimacy does not come from the ballot box,” said López Ayllón. 

He pointed to examples of elected judges in the United States, but noted that they are not at the federal level and that “they’re the exception, not the rule.”

“Electing Supreme Court justices would radically change the court’s functions,” he said. “It would cease to be a technical, legal, constitutional body to one of a political nature, and therefore it would lose the impartiality and independence characteristic of constitutional tribunals.”

Mexico’s high court does need an overhaul, but the proposed reform is not the solution, according to political analyst José Antonio Crespo. 

“The attorney general has to be the one to combat corruption, and anyone caught in matters of corruption must be eliminated, but this has nothing to do with the selection process,” Crespo said.

That does not mean the status quo should be maintained. Crespo criticized Mexico and other democracies for having another branch of the government appoint Supreme Court justices. 

“I think it’s absurd that a branch that tries to call itself independent is appointed by another branch that it will then be tasked with keeping watch over,” he said. 

For Crespo, the ideal form of appointing justices would be to create a commission of experts from academia who review and ultimately decide on which candidates will be appointed to the court. 

“That way, you take the political parties out of the process and therefore political influence and compromises, favoritism and, of course, the president,” he said. 

López Obrador’s announcement was most likely political backlash to Monday’s ruling on his election reform, Crespo said.

“If they had voted as he had wanted them to, he wouldn’t have said what he said today,” Crespo said. “People who obey him are trustworthy, honest, those who don’t are corrupt and rotten. It’s really a crude and rudimentary demagogy.”

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