Mexico’s Supreme Court has elected a woman president for the first time to head the country’s highest judicial body.
After a vote of six to five on Monday, Judge Norma Lucia Pina was sworn in for a four-year term as president of the court, which she pledged to remain independent.
“Judicial independence is indispensable in resolving conflicts between the branches of government,” Pina said Monday. “My main proposal is to work on building majorities beyond my personal vision.”
Pina’s election could bring the court into even bigger confrontation with the government of Mexico’s leftist president Andres Manuel Lopez Obradorwith whom Pina has discussed issues such as energy policy.
Lopez Obrador’s relationship with the country’s highest court is already strained. The president has spoken out against the Supreme Court, especially after the court blocked some of his policies.
In November, for example, Lopez Obrador accused the court of siding with white-collar criminals when it struck down part of its “jail, no bail” policy, which required mandatory pre-trial detention for defendants charged with crimes such as tax fraud. “What sheer shamelessness,” he said, denouncing the judges.
The Supreme Court of Mexico holds elections for a new president every four years. With outgoing Chief Justice Arturo Zaldivar about to complete his term on December 31, Lopez Obrador had shrugged off another justice, Yasmin Esquivel, in the hope that a more sympathetic leader would be chosen to head the Supreme Court .
But Esquivel’s candidacy was overshadowed by scandal when a December news report claimed she had plagiarized her dissertation. Esquivel’s paper, presented in 1987, was reportedly identical to one submitted the year before, although she claims the earlier thesis copied her work.
The public university where Esquivel earned a bachelor’s degree is still investigating the matter.
Lopez Obrador attacked the allegations against Esquivel as politically motivated. He said on Monday the country’s judicial system was “overshadowed by money, by economic power”.
Pina’s election, meanwhile, was welcomed by members of the oppositionwith conservative politicians like Kenya López Rabadán applauding her appointment.
“Facing a president who violates the constitution, the Court must now more than ever demonstrate independence, impartiality, objectivity and professionalism,” López Rabadán wrote on Twitter.
Some officials close to Lopez Obrador have also welcomed Pina’s election.
“This is the time of human rights, the time for women,” Senator Olga Cordero, Obrador’s former interior minister, said in a social media post.
Pina, who will oversee the entire judicial branch of the country, has defended Mexico’s efforts to switch to renewable energy. That has put her at odds with Lopez Obrador, who promoted a plan to bring the energy sector under control of the national energy company Comision Nacional de Electricidad (CFE) and the state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).
Lopez Obrador accused his predecessors of pursuing policies that favored private companies and had tried to make greater state control of Mexico’s energy sector a cornerstone of his economic agenda.
But his ambitions ran into barriers in Mexico’s Supreme Court. The court invalidated important parts of its energy plan, including one that gave CFE priority when connecting power plants to the energy grid.
In its ruling, the court invoked a constitutional obligation to reduce the state’s environmental footprint.
Obrador’s energy policy has also brought him into conflict with the US complained that Mexico’s policies penalize US-based companies and violate the region’s trade agreements. Canada has made similar claims.
The international dispute led to the resignation of the Mexican economy minister in October, fearing the complaint could lead to Mexico facing punitive tariffs.