Rule of Law in Mexico

Mexico began its transition to democracy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, after decades of one-party rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). The path to democracy has been slow and sometimes difficult, but since that time, Mexico has witnessed significant democratic gains. However, recent events have raised significant concerns about democratic decline in Mexico. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s administration has threatened the independence of the National Electoral Institute (INE), the judiciary, and the highly regarded National Institute for Transparency, Access to Information, and Protection of Personal Data (INAI).

Electoral Integrity: Mexico

Electoral reforms in the 1990s and early 2000s strengthened Mexico’s electoral institutions and made the electoral process more transparent and competitive. The Federal Electoral Institute (IFE), established in 1990, and its 2014 successor, the National Electoral Institute (INE), have been crucial for ensuring that elections are conducted fairly and freely. Indeed, INE—an autonomous body charged with organizing, implementing, and monitoring Mexican elections–is widely regarded as one of the most effective and independent electoral commissions in the world. In recent years, however, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and his party, Morena, have sought to undermine INE’s independence.

INE v Congress et al

On February 22, 2023, Mexico’s Congress enacted a new electoral reform package known as “Plan B” (after the preceding “Plan A,” which sought to amend the Mexican constitution, failed). Plan B threatens to undo Mexico’s democratic gains. It guts INE’s capacity to organize elections and count votes by dismissing over 80% of its civil servants and eliminating crucial offices overseeing elections. It undermines INE’s globally recognized independence, effectiveness, and professionalism. It infringes on the fundamental right to vote and threatens the legitimacy of the forthcoming 2024 Presidential election.

More than 173 lawsuits challenging Plan B have been filed before the Supreme Court of Justice. Among these lawsuits is a notable one filed by INE itself, challenging the constitutionality of the legislation while outlining its impact on INE’s independence and ability to protect citizens’ rights to participate in free and fair elections.

The Stanford Law School Rule of Law Impact Lab has filed, on behalf of the Mexican Bar Association, an amicus curiae brief before the Supreme Court of Justice in this constitutional challenge. The brief underscores the Court’s role in protecting Mexico’s democracy and describes international legal standards applicable to this case.

The amicus curiae brief highlights:

  1. International legal standards relating to Mexico’s obligations to uphold the democratic principle, the right to vote, and to enable citizen participation in public affairs through authentic, regular elections conducted by universal and equal suffrage and secret ballot.
  2. The Mexican State’s obligation to implement necessary measures to make such rights effective.
  3. The Mexican State’s obligation to ensure the independence and adequacy of resources for bodies in charge of elections.

Judicial Independence: Mexico

Since taking office in 2018, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s government has sought in various ways to undermine judicial independence. The government has sought to alter composition of the Supreme Court in its favor and proposed constitutional “reforms” that would weaken judicial independence. The President has used his morning press conferences to publicly rebuke the judiciary for decisions that uphold the rule of law in the face of his authoritarian tactics. Notably, after the Mexican Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional his government’s proposal to undermine electoral integrity, the President retaliated by publicly attacking the justices as “rotten” and announced that judges should be elected by popular vote instead of being appointed.

On September 19, 2023, the President’s party, Morena, introduced a proposal before the Chamber of Deputies (the lower house of Mexico’s Congress) to reduce the federal judiciary’s 2024 budget by about 30 percent. The Chamber of Deputies will discuss the proposal and decide by mid-November whether to approve or reject the proposed budget.
This proposal to reduce the judiciary’s budget is the latest attempt by the President and his party to undermine judicial independence. This arguably violates principles of judicial independence enshrined in the Mexican constitution, Article 100 of which states that “The Supreme Court of Justice shall propose its own budget.” Similarly, Article 94 reinforces the protection of judicial salaries, asserting that “Remuneration granted to the Justices of the Supreme Court, the circuit judges, the district judges, the councilors of the Federal Judiciary and the electoral judges, may not be reduced during their term.”

The proposal also violates international legal standards which recognize the crucial importance of providing adequate budgetary resources to safeguard judicial independence1. The Inter American Commission has observed that “To ensure the institutional independence of the judicial branch, the Public Prosecution Service and the Public Defender Service, they must not be made to rely on other entities or branches of government for funding and management of their budgets and they must have sufficient funds to be able to discharge their functions properly.”2 The United Nations Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary state that “It is the duty of all governmental and other institutions to respect and observe the independence of the judiciary” and that “The judiciary shall decide matters before them impartially, on the basis of facts and in accordance with the law, without any restrictions, improper influences, inducements, pressures, threats or interferences, direct or indirect, from any quarter or for any reason.” Furthermore, the Human Rights Committee has recognized that judicial salaries should reflect the dignity of the profession and the responsibilities assumed3. Remuneration should be legally protected, paid promptly, and ensure that judges can lead a dignified life4.

An independent and adequately funded judiciary is crucial for upholding the rule of law in Mexico. Accordingly, on September 25, 2023, the Mexican Bar Association and the Stanford Law School Rule of Law Impact Lab called on the Mexican Chamber of Deputies to reject the proposed substantial budget cut.


1 UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Diego García-Sayán, 9 June 2017, A/HRC/35/31, https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G17/159/85/PDF/G1715985.pdf?OpenElement, para. 32; European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission). Report on the independence of the judiciary, part I: the independence of judges, 12-13 March 2010, https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/default.aspx?pdffile=CDL-AD(2010)004-spa, paras. 52, 55.
2Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators. Toward Strengthening Access to Justice and the Rule of Law in the Americas, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.Doc. 44, December 5, 2013, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/defensores/docs/pdf/justice-operators-2013.pdf, para. 49.
<sup3UN Human Rights Committee (HRC), UN Human Rights Committee: Concluding Observations: Tajikistan, 18 July 2005, CCPR/CO/84/TJK, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/TreatyBodyExternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CCPR%2FCO%2F84%2FTJK&Lang=es, paragraph 17; UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, 24 March 2009, A/HRC/11/41, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/A.HRC.11.41_sp.pdf , paragraph 75.
4 UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy: Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development, 24 March 2009, A/HRC/11/41, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/a.hrc.11.41_en.pdf, paragraphs 73, 74 and 75. Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR). Guarantees for the Independence of Justice Operators. Towards Strengthening Access to Justice and the Rule of Law in the Americas, OEA/Ser.L/V/II.Doc. 44, December 5, 2013, https://www.oas.org/es/cidh/defensores/docs/pdf/Operadores-de-Justicia-2013.pdf, para. 50; UN: Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Mr. Leandro Despouy, March 24, 2009, A/HRC/11/41, https://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/hrcouncil/docs/11session/a.hrc.11.41_sp.pdf, para. 37.