President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his party have been publicly critical of the judicial branch, even long before coming to power, including a series of public skirmishes over the salaries member of the judiciary are paid. Last week the government may have opened up another front in its assault on the main institutional check on AMLO’s broader power grab.
Senator Ricardo Monreal, the governing National Regeneration Movement (Morena) party’s coordinator in the upper chamber, has advanced a bill that would expand the number of justices on the Supreme Court from 11 to 16, thereby creating five new vacancies for the president to fill. He proposed another reform that would eliminate the Federal Judiciary Council charged with the discipline, monitoring, evaluation and organization of the judicial branch.
It is still unclear whether this is part of a move being orchestrated from the presidency, or just the latest instance of posturing by a political ally of the president who is intent on maintaining his own political presence with an eye toward becoming the Morena presidential nominee for 2024.
AMLO has yet to say anything publicly about the reform bills, and he has yet to rebuke Monreal for ongoing public disputes between the senator and party head Yeidckol Polevnski.
But whether or not by design, the administration could find in Monreal’s latest proposals an opportunity to intimidate a Supreme Court ahead of major rulings on matters of great interest to the administration. Judicial autonomy, especially that of the Supreme Court, constitutes a brake on López Obrador’s efforts to accumulate power.
Or the administration may prefer to forego the sorts of more radical transformation proposals Monreal is pushing and instead gradually undermine the independence of the judiciary by further starving it of funds in upcoming budgets, or subjecting members of the judicial branch to investigations of supposed acts of corruption.
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