AMLO Seeks Revenge against SCJN via Public Referendum

Photo: Pulse News Mexico Staff


Ready and raring to seek retribution against Mexico’s Supreme Court (SCJN) for invalidating his controversial Plan B electoral reform, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has set his sights on dismantling the appointment process of the SCJN as we know it, aiming to hold a national referendum that could potentially turn the SCJN ministers’ selection into a popular vote – yet another display of López Obrador’s repeated pattern of arbitrarily attempting to bend the law to his whims, come hell or high water.

As stipulated by the Mexican Constitution, the current selection process of the SCJN ministers requires the serving federal executive – in this case, AMLO – to propose a shortlist of viable candidates for the available positions on the court, with those appointed for the role from the list of nominees subsequently ratified to the court, where they will go on to serve a 15-year term, by the Mexican Senate.

Throughout the course of his six-year term, López Obrador has had the opportunity to nominate four of the SCJN’s currently serving 11 ministers to the court, including Juan Luis González Alcántara Carrancá, Yasmín Esquivel Mossa, Margarita Ríos Farjat and Loretta Ortiz Ahlf. 

But despite being personally behind the selection of more than a third of the court’s sitting ministers, AMLO’s interests haven’t been unequivocally supported by the SCJN as he so desires. On Monday, May 8, the SCJN ministers decided to invalidate López Obrador’s Plan B electoral reform – the federal executive’s second attempt to shift Mexico’s electoral law in his favor following a dead-in-the-water constitutional reform – for violations of the legislative process, after AMLO’s National Regeneration Movement (Morena) rammed the legislation through the Chamber of Deputies, purportedly by López Obrador’s orders, at breakneck speed.

Now, seemingly scorned by the SCJN’s choice to follow the Mexico’s law to the letter, López Obrador has set his sights on revenge by holding a public referendum, proposed under the guise of the Popular Consultation Law and reminiscent of AMLO’s successful attempt to dismantle the construction of the New International Mexico Airport (NAIM) by referendum upon entering office in 2018, to change SCJN ministers’ appointment into an election by popular vote.

“Why not ask the people? Why not consult the citizens?” postured AMLO during his daily morning press conference on Wednesday, May 17. “We can argue the importance that the ministers of the court, the magistrates, the judges, be elected and chosen by the people, with a universal, direct, vote, that they are not chosen or appointed by the powerful elite, but by the people.”

Under Mexico’s Popular Consultation Law, said referendum would be held on the first Sunday of August of either this or next year but must first be approved by a simple majority in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate – where Morena, conveniently enough, holds sufficient seats to reach approval with ease.

However, Article 35 of the Mexican Constitution stipulates that the referendum must then be approved by the SCJN to determine its validity and constitutionality, essentially turning the court into the ultimate judge and jury of its own fate.

Legal experts have condemned López Obrador’s initiative as “nonsense,” a “waste of public resources,” and a “smokescreen” for other problems facing the AMLO administration, noting that the popular election of judges would completely undermine the requirement for ministers’ indispensable impartiality.

“I think it is nonsense, the SCJN has a very high degree of specialization and it is not through a popular consultation that the specialization of the judges can be resolved,” said National Bar Association expert Tulio Salanueva Brito. “This consultation is more for electoral purposes, because the executive seeks the sympathy of the electorate.” 

AMLO’s quest against the SCJN, a part of his so-called Plan C to reach a Morena supermajority in the Chamber of Deputies during Mexico’s 2024 elections, is also seeking to slash the SCJN ministers’ salaries and benefits – all while the federal executive continues to receive a 2.6 million-peso annual salary and an additional 875.5 million-peso yearly budget for travel and personnel.

Likewise, the proposed referendum and, if the consultation results ultimately swing in AMLO’s favor, subsequent elections of SCJN ministers would cost Mexico billions and billions of pesos to conduct, a far cry from the “austerity” the López Obrador administration claims to champion.

In López Obrador’s typical disparaging fashion, the federal executive has made sure to badmouth the current court in order to color public perception of the SCJN’s efficacy and impartiality ever since Plan B’s invalidation, as Mexican daily newspaper Reforma columnist F. Bartolomé succinctly said, “practically accusing them of treason … without offering a single piece of evidence.”

The federal executive has likewise made sure to sic choice Morena attack dogs to additionally discredit the court, with Morena Senator Alejandro Armenta imprudently purporting that SCJN President Norma Piña made“threats” against him for supporting AMLO’s proposed judiciary reform – with nothing more than flimsy screenshots of an alleged WhatsApp conversation as his proof.

While López Obrador’s newly announced referendum plans are yet to come to head, if the federal executive’s continued track record of callous capriciousness is any inclination, AMLO will stop at nothing to see his paranoid plot against the SCJN turn into a reality.

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