Prominent lawyers who work in Latin America are calling on the Mexican legal community to actively participate in the process of appointing the country’s next Supreme Court justice.
The Mexican High Court consists of 11 ministers who each typically serve 15 years. The term of Justice José Fernando Franco González Salas, who was nominated in 2006 by a Mexican president who favored private sector investment, expires in December.
The Cyrus R. Vance Center for International Justice’s Lawyers Council for Civil and Economic Rights, which brings together 18 lawyers from 14 countries in the Americas, has issued recommendations to strengthen the selection process amid concerns about a possible deterioration of judicial independence in Mexico.
“Carrying out an open and robust process that considers lawyers with the best qualifications for the shortlist and allows the legal community and society in general participation will give legitimacy to the process and the court,” Antonia Stolper, Vance Center committee vice chair for Latin America and former head of the Latin America affinity group at Shearman & Sterling, said in a statement.
The Mexican president has the authority to propose three candidates for the Supreme Court seat, with the Senate expected to select a winner, in a process that the Vance Center described as historically opaque and arbitrary.
The Vance Center suggests that the various Mexican bar associations and other networks of legal professionals review and provide substantive feedback on the profiles of proposed candidates in an effort to shed more light on the selection process.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who took office in December 2018 and is limited by the Constitution to a single, six-year term, has already appointed three of the country’s 11 current Supreme Court judges, including a replacement for a judge his administration accused of corruption. He enjoys ample support in Congress.
The business and legal community are concerned about the president’s stance toward foreign investment and lawyers. López Obrador has discouraged foreign investment, especially if those investments compete with government-run energy firms. He has also called Mexican lawyers who defend international companies “traitors.”
“A good business environment will depend on the legal certainty derived from a strong judiciary with independent judges that is able to guarantee the full exercise of civil and economic rights,” Todd Crider, head of the Latin America practice at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett and member of the Vance Center’s Lawyers Council for Civil and Economic Rights, said in a statement.
The council highlighted that efforts by Mexican lawyers to guarantee an impartial, highly qualified and ethical judicial branch would resonate throughout Latin America, since the country is viewed as a regional leader.
Members of the council include Roberto Quiroga, managing partner of Brazilian firm Mattos Filho, which is Latin America’s biggest law firm. Also Valeria Chapa, a prominent corporate lawyer in Mexico and founding partner of AbogadasMX, a group that seeks to promote women in law. Prominent corporate lawyers from Chile and Colombia are also members.