The “Zaldívar Law is a frontal attack on the rule of law,” warned America’s director of Human Rights Watch. “The Zaldívar Law is an attempt by the president to control the Judiciary.”
MEXICO CITY (Reforma) – José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director for Human Rights Watch (HRW), assured that the so-called Zaldívar Law constitutes a “frontal attack on the rule of law” in Mexico.
This was detailed by Vivanco in a column for the Reforma newspaper on Saturday.
Vivanco assured that the approval of the reforms to the Judicial Power, in addition to violating the Constitution, “represents a blatant attempt by the president (Andrés Manuel López Obrador) and his party to control the judicial system.”
The Mexican Congress approved this Friday a controversial reform of the Judiciary that includes the extension for two years of the presidency in the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) of Arturo Zaldívar of being close to the current Government.
Justice subordinated to AMLO.
Congress approved this Friday a judicial reform known as the “Zaldívar Law.” The law, promoted by Morena legislators and President López Obrador, contains the last-minute modification (transitory article) that extends for two years the mandate of the President of the Supreme Court, Arturo Zaldívar.
This maneuver contravenes the express text of the Constitution and also undermines judicial independence. It represents nothing more and nothing less than a frontal attack on the rule of law. Zaldívar could have graciously thanked the presidential praise and, in turn, rejected in unequivocal and public terms this reform that damages the Judiciary’s credibility. Unfortunately, Zaldívar’s attitude has been ambivalent at best.
The article mentioned above is worrisome for several reasons. First, it violates the Constitution and therefore lacks any legitimacy. The Constitution establishes that every four years, the Supreme Court members shall elect one of their number as President of the Court and that such minister may not be reelected as President for another consecutive term.
Zaldívar was elected President of the Supreme Court in January 2019, and his term lasts four years until December 2022. The Constitution does not provide that his tenure may be extended. Any attempt to do otherwise by Congress, the President, or members of the Supreme Court is inconsistent with the Constitution.
But moreover, this provision represents a blatant attempt by López Obrador and Morena to control the judicial system. Zaldívar has ruled in favor of López Obrador and his allies, including some of the Court’s most controversial decisions. In October, for example, he voted in favor of López Obrador’s proposal to hold a referendum on whether to criminally investigate former presidents for corruption. Zaldívar has also openly experimented in the political arena, publicly supporting President López Obrador when he decided to give asylum to former Evo Morales’ Government members in the Mexican embassy during the severe political crisis in Bolivia in 2019.
As President of the Supreme Court, Zaldívar also presides over the Federal Judiciary Council, the body that governs the judicial system and appoints, removes, promotes, and disciplines federal judges. In turn, the Council can consolidate multiple cases into one, which could be used to help the Government obtain favorable judicial outcomes. As President of the Council, Zaldívar also sets the agenda and priorities of this crucial body.
In addition to Zaldívar, the Council has six other members. The Morena-controlled Senate appoints two directly by AMLO, and the Supreme Court chooses three others. This means that as long as Zaldívar remains President of the Supreme Court and remains aligned with López Obrador, the President and his party can count on at least four of the seven votes of the body that controls the judicial system.
With four votes, the Council can approve the forced retirement of judges. Morena would have enough quorum to appoint, sanction, and remove judges with just one more option. This is especially worrisome, given that López Obrador has shown that judicial independence matters little to him. Just a month ago, AMLO publicly asked the Judiciary Council to investigate and sanction a judge who ruled against him in a controversy related to his proposed electricity sector reform.
To protect human rights and public liberties, it is vital that the Judiciary be independent and that its decisions be based exclusively on the laws in force and not on the whims of the political party in power. In the past, Zaldívar insisted on the importance of judicial independence and spoke out against former presidents who tried to interfere in judicial decisions. While López Obrador and the ruling party in Congress interfere with the freedom of the courts, it is deplorable.
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