Almost four months of uncertainty about the future of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) ended on Friday with the announcement of its president, Arturo Zaldívar, about his decision to reject the extension of his term as head of the court until 2024. What began as a discreet detail in Congress and later became a fire that questioned the intentions of the Executive regarding the matter has been settled in an announcement of less than 15 minutes at the headquarters of the Supreme Court and with the presidential confirmation that it was difficult for the issue to advance in the court itself. The underlying reason for unleashing – and then discarding – the controversial proposal that added two years to Zaldívar’s position is somewhat blurred.
Zaldívar has made known his rejection of the extension of his mandate a few days before his ten colleagues in the highest court discussed and voted on the issue. In June, the minister asked his colleagues to evaluate the decision that Congress had taken in April, but since then he has shown a certain inclination not to go ahead. “Respect the Constitution!” A man yelled after leaving a polling place on June 6, the extension of the mandate sowing unpopularity every day. In July, he acknowledged to this newspaper that it was he who had paid the highest political cost of the decision in light of the allegations that the extension of the mandate was a design of the president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who put the independence of the Judiciary at risk . “I hope that in August this will be nothing more than an anecdote and we can get back to dealing with what is important,” he said then. So it was.
The minister insisted this Friday that the noise about the extension of the mandate has left what is vital in the background: the reform of the Judiciary. An initiative that, in his words, seeks to eliminate corruption, nepotism and sexual harassment in the institution that administers justice, to, at the same time, make it more professional to attend to the affairs of ordinary Mexicans. “The Congress of the Union thought it was a good idea for those of us who thought and designed this reform to conclude its consolidation. Given the risk that an unfinished reform due to institutional inertia generates a return to the past towards stages of corruption and nepotism that we hope will be banished forever in this Judicial Power, ”argued the magistrate when announcing his decision to reject the extension of the mandate .
The reasons that led Senator Raúl Bolaños-Cacho Cué, of the Green Party, to ask last April to add a transitory article to the reform of the Judicial Power at the last minute – the thirteenth – for Zaldívar to preside over the Court and the Judicial Power until November 2024. The senator from Oaxaca, close to the local figures of the PRI, chairs the Environment Commission and promotes an agenda closer to the interests of his party, than to those of the political formation of the president . The senator bet on a political maneuver of confusion: a spark that ignited everything in its path. The protection argument for judicial reform was also cited by the legislator.
López Obrador insisted throughout the debate that the extension of Zaldívar’s mandate was in line with the objectives of his Government to banish corruption and promote a transformation of the political life of Mexico. “For there to be a change [en el Poder Judicial] Minister Zaldívar is required to last until 2024. It is not re-election, it is that it ends in 2024, hopefully the rest of the ministers will support it, placed by the old regime and when politics was at the service of minorities and not at the service of the people, ”the president mentioned in June.
On Thursday, in front of a plate of bean tamales and fried plantains and a glass of chocolate, Zaldívar confirmed to López Obrador that he would resign from the extension of his mandate, according to the president. Without insisting further on the issue, the president has confirmed that one of the reasons was the impossibility for the matter to prosper in Court. “It is very difficult, because the ministers of the old regime predominate,” he said as a justification for not moving forward. López Obrador points to the eight ministers chosen by his predecessors – Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto – to occupy a seat on the highest court. He has designated three and at the end of this year he will have the opportunity to nominate a fourth.
By speaking out against the ministers, López Obrador ignores the fact that Zaldívar, a career lawyer, was nominated for the Court by former President Felipe Calderón in 2009. Despite this precedent, the president has paid unusual attention to one of the court’s most progressive ministers, something the magistrate has defined as “affection” and “support.” “I am not here for charges, for positions, or for privileges,” Zaldívar insisted in his speech on Friday in the Supreme Court. The background has been the conflict of the Electoral Tribunal of the Federal Judicial Power (TEPJF) for the removal of its president, José Luis Vargas, after the allegations of illicit enrichment against him. An example of what Zaldívar seeks to combat from the highest seat of the Judiciary, but which will be his task until 2022.
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