Yesterday, the Mexico’s Senate discussed the three candidates shortlisted by President Felipe Calderón to fill the vacancy in Supreme Court (For more details see my previous blog entry). The three women made presentations before the senators voted on who should be the new Supreme Court judge. In her presentation, Lilia Mónica López Benítez, the candidate with the strongest curriculum and a clear record of defending human rights, stated her position as “the defence of the constitutional principles of no discrimination and equality” and described herself as “an honest women, who keeps her word; and, who promises to adopt a frank and open position, [while] fighting for a more inclusive, just and equal Mexico.” For her part, the presidential favourite and candidate close to his right-wing party, Acción Nacional (National Action Party or PAN), Elvia Díaz de León unsurprisingly adopted a more conservative stance. Although she promised to innovate in her interpretation of the Constitution, she qualified this statement by adding that her position would always be “in keeping with our own culture” . A remark which, in Mexican political code, reaffirms her commitment to a Catholic moral worldview and her opposition to the legalisation of abortion and same gender marriage.
In order to be elected, the winning candidate needed to gain a two thirds majority in the Senate vote (which meant 82 votes). In the event, the vote was split between panistas (members of the PAN), who all voted for Díaz de León (48 in total) and senators from the other three main parties, the centrist Partido de la Revolución Institucional (or PRI), and the left-wing the Partido de la Revolución Democrática (or PRD) and the Partido de Trabajo (or PT), who voted for López Benítez (in total 73). There were just two rogue votes for the third candidate, Andrea Zambrana Castañeda, who was widely regarded as merely a “filler” candidate to make up the mandatory three person shortlist. As a result, the Senate resolved to have a second vote, this time with only the two winning candidates. The hope was that the panistas would recognise the majority in favour of López Benítez and vote for her in the second election.
Unfortunately for Mexico’s Supreme Court and for her justice system, this did not happen. The panistas as a bloc maintained their vote in favour of Díaz de León and López Benítez gained just one extra vote in the second round. This vote had previously been for Zambrana Castañeda. As a result, the Senate was forced to return the shortlist to the President with no decision made. He in turn will have to draw up another in the New Year. It can only be hoped that Calderón will not be influenced by political considerations when making this decision. In similar circumstances in 2003, when the winning candidate (Margarita Luna Ramos) on the shortlist sent by ex president Vicente Fox failed to gain a two thirds majority, Fox resubmitted a shortlist containing that candidate and two others, whose curricula did not make them viable candidates. In this way, the problem was solved and Luna Ramos was finally selected in February 2004. On this occasion, it is interesting to note that the original shortlist also ran aground because of panista support for Díaz de León, who featured on the list along with Luna Ramos and José Luis de la Peza. If Calderón does not copy Fox, and insists on Díaz de León in a second shortlist, it is likely that the Senate will be split a second time and no two thirds majority will be achieved. This would leave the constitutional possibility open for President Calderón to name her unilaterally her himself at a later date . That would be very unfortunate for Mexico’s Supreme Court and even more so for women and human rights in Mexico.