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Mexico: President López Obrador Endorses Proposed Judicial Branch Reform

(Feb. 27, 2020) On February 12, 2020, the president of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, endorsed a draft bill to reform the judiciary. The bill had been drafted by Arturo Zaldívar, chief justice of the Mexican Supreme Court, but the president will submit the bill to the Mexican Congress because the chief justice is not entitled to do so. The reform, if approved, would constitute the most extensive reform of the federal judiciary since 1995, when the Council of the Federal Judiciary was created. Under article 94 of the Mexican Constitution, the Council of the Federal Judiciary has the responsibility for the administration, supervision, and discipline of the federal judiciary, with the exception of the Supreme Court.

The draft bill proposes changes to articles 94, 97, 99, 100, 103, 105, and 107 of the Constitution and the issuance of a new Organic Law on the Judicial Branch of the Federation.

The main points of the reform to the judiciary proposed by the bill include the following:

  • Enacting a Law on the Judicial Career of the Judicial Branch of the Federation that, for the first time in Mexico’s history, will regulate the service of judicial professionals.
  • Transforming the Federal Judicial Institute into the Federal School of Judicial Training to serve as a serious, modern, and excellent academic institution whose mission is the training of judges.
  • Establishing work performance evaluation schemes for judicial careers. Such evaluations can provide practitioners with encouragement and recognition and serve as the basis for decisions regarding permanent retention in or separation from a judicial career.
  • Strengthening public defenders in their vocations through comprehensive, specialized training at the new federal school of judicial training and through competitions for employment hiring and promotions.
  • Adopting measures to combat corruption, nepotism, and sexual harassment in the judiciary.
  • Establishing gender parity as a principle of the judicial career and as a policy for the granting of appointments.
  • Creating appeals courts composed of three judges to replace the unitary circuit courts.
  • Eliminating the obligation that for Supreme Court rulings to become binding, a “prescribed majority” of the Court must issue five consecutive decisions identical from a substantive point of view and not interrupted by a decision to the contrary. Under the proposed reform, a single decision would be binding.

The bill proposes that the Supreme Court decide at its discretion which amparo directo lawsuits (those filed before a competent Circuit Collegiate Court) it will review, without its decision being challenged. Allowing the Court to choose the issues it will resolve would make it similar in this respect to the U.S. Supreme Court and free it from the obligation of deciding more than 3,000 cases per year.