AMLO’s Plan to Elect Judges Undermines Democracy, Groups Say

(Bloomberg) -- Constitutional reforms pitched by Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador are a threat to judicial independence, violate international legal standards and undermine democracy, three law and advocacy groups said Thursday.

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The Mexican Bar Association, the Stanford Law School Rule of Law Impact Lab, and the Inter-American Dialogue’s Rule of Law Program released an analysis of the changes put forward by AMLO, as the president is known.

AMLO wants all judges, including those on the Supreme Court, to be elected by popular vote — something few other countries do. The changes would also reduce judge’s terms, tie judicial salaries to those of the executive branch, and create a judicial disciplinary body whose members are also elected by popular vote.

Given that the proposal requires modifying the constitution, it involves having a two-third congressional majority support it, which AMLO does not currently have. With elections June 2 to choose both the next president and congressmembers, it remains to be seen if his party gains enough seats to move forward with it.

The initiatives proposed by AMLO “seek to dramatically affect judicial powers through the country, to the detriment of the human rights of all Mexicans,” said Victor Olea Pelaez, president of the Mexican Bar Association, the country’s association of lawyers.

The organizations point to Bolivia and the US — the only two countries that allow voters to choose judges for courts with constitutional jurisdiction — as examples of what could go wrong.

“The experience of these two countries confirms that judicial elections compromise the independence and impartiality of the judicial system,” the groups said.

Claudia Sheinbaum, frontrunner to replace AMLO, has publicly supported voting judges into office.

The Stanford Law Impact Lab researches democratic decline globally, and the Inter-American Dialogue is a non-profit that advocates for democratic governance.

--With assistance from Eric Martin.

(Adds additional context in paragraph eight. An earlier version of the story corrected the spelling of a last name in paragraph five.)

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