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The fundamental identity and raison d’être of Mexico’s Supreme Court of Justice (SCJN) should not be and cannot be anything other than its independence from all other gubernatorial powers, particularly from the executive.

This essential truth of every republic will soon be put to the test in Mexico when President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s proposed so-called Plan B — which would essentially nullify the country’s most important electoral body, the National Electoral Institute (INE) — reaches the lower courts and the SCJN. It is there that the sanctitude of the INE and the ability to function unimpeded by outside influences will be put to the test. As a consequence, Mexico’s 2024 presidential elections could be at very serious risk.

Not only at stake is the effectiveness of the vote, but also the electoral process itself. Faced with the servile and ignominious resignation of acquiescence to the president by the majority of Mexico’s federal deputies and senators, will the nation’s judiciary defend the freedom of the Mexican people to choose their governors and representatives?

If Mexico’s judges admit the appeals that will be presented against Plan B, and if, should it become necessary, the justices of the Supreme Court declare the vast and manifestly unconstitutional nature of this proposed monstrosity, they will have rendered an invaluable service to Mexico.

How independent has Mexico’s Supreme Court been throughout history? The truth is that, until the end of the 20th century, only in one period of our nation’s history did the judiciary live up to its mission: that of the Restored Republic (1867-1876). That era should inspire today’s judges to vote their consciences.

At that time, the independence of Mexico’s Supreme Court vis-à-vis the nation’s executive was not only manifested in the awards and rulings it issued on a very diverse range of issues, but also in the openly critical attitude of the SCJN justices toward then-President Benito Juárez, due to his innate inclination to perpetuate his political career in that post. One of those justices published these lines in the press, which were later reproduced by Daniel Cosío Villegas in his book “The 1857 Constitution and its Critics”:

“Ballot boxes that appear to have been sold to the government cannot cover up the traces of violence and corruption … 30,000 (military) men have pointed their bayonets at defenseless citizens, a brigade of employees has been given the mission of becoming secondary voters, 500 re-election bribery agents have poured out public funds on the doors that … were opened to them, 200 newspapers have been published with the approval of the justice. Nevertheless, of 9 million inhabitants, at least 6 million have shown their resolution to uphold the ruling that their indignation has just prevailed over violence. There will be no re-election!”

The author of this incendiary paragraph was not a conservative justice. He was none other than Ignacio Ramírez, Mexico’s so-called Necromancer, as politically liberal as Juárez himself.

And just as Ramírez made public his repudiation of the electoral maneuver, so did other magistrates and personalities of the time, all immaculate liberals: Ignacio Manuel Altamirano, León Guzmán, Vicente Riva Palacio, Sebastián Lerdo de Tejada, José María Iglesias.

The re-election debate was most certainly an extreme, but not unique, case in which Mexico’s justices demonstrated their inherent independence. In the famous Morelos Appeal of 1874, for example, the Supreme Court determined that Mexican citizens could seek protection from the provisions of an authority considered illegitimate due to irregularities in its election, that is, that was “incompetent of origin.” And what happened in the Supreme Court, as Cosío Villegas noted, found its perfect replica in the country’s entire judicial apparatus

“There is not a single case throughout the 10 years of the Restored Republic in which the Supreme Court has not managed with absolute independence from the executive branch the thousands of protections that arose as a result of that suspension of guarantees,” Cosio Villegas wrote. “To be fully convinced of this fact, one need only read the Judicial Weekly of the Federation. There the infallible freedom of the Supreme Court is evidenced, along with that of (the nation’s) district judges and the agents of the public ministry.”

Where did that commitment of independence of the judiciary come from, Cosio Villegas wondered at the time. Not from their salaries, which were meager, nor from their guaranteed immobility, which was decreed some time later. It came from their love of freedom.

This took place within a liberal society, created by liberals, lived by liberals, a society in which freedom, far from being the hollow and meaningless word that it has become today, was a reality lived and reveled in on a daily basis.

The defense of freedom in Mexico is, once again, in the hands of the nation’s judiciary. The country’s citizens will be very attentive to their positions and decisions in the weeks and months ahead. And, as will be plainly demonstrated on Sunday, Feb. 26, when thousands upon thousands of Mexicans will congregate in the capital’s main square Zócalo of Mexico City and across the country to protest the president’s proposed Plan B.

We are legion.

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