Federal judges demonstrated publicly for the first time ever yesterday to accuse President López Obrador of attempting to interfere in the judiciary and to reject his claim that they earn up to 600,000 pesos a month (US $29,500).
More than 1,400 judges at 30 locations in 25 states participated in the protest to defend the independence of the judiciary.
Luis Vega Ramírez, president of the National Association of Federal Magistrates and Judges, said in Mexico City that the government has presented a “false discourse” that judges are “privileged” and live off an “abuse of public funds.”
The 600,000-peso figure cited by López Obrador is “not even close to reality,” he added.
At a press conference yesterday morning, the president described salaries earned by judges and other high-ranking officials as “exaggerated and offensive.”
López Obrador has long pledged to slash the salaries of public officials, declaring often that “there can’t be a rich government with a poor people.”
Lawmakers from the president’s Morena party presented a bill that was approved by Congress last month that decreed that no public official should earn more than the president, who has set his monthly salary at 108,000 pesos (US $5,300) – 60% less than the former president’s wage.
But the Supreme Court (SCJN) ruled Friday that the Federal Public Servants Remuneration Law must be suspended, stating that it would cause “irreparable damage.”
Vega told reporters gathered on the steps of the Federal Palace of Justice that López Obrador and his allies in Congress have presented their salary proposal and a plan to rotate judges to different courts around the country to avoid corruption as “modernizing exercises” that will save citizens money and make the provision of justice more efficient.
However, he charged that the real intention is to “weaken the system of checks and balances in our democracy and to violate the rule of law.”
He declared: “In an authentic regime with a division of powers, in a strengthened democracy, such as the one that allowed this change of course, docile judges don’t fit. [We’re not at] the service of anyone. Wage irreducibility is not a privilege but rather one of the various guarantees of independence of the judiciary.”
Vega argued that the attack on judges didn’t just harm them but society and its institutions.
“The risk of maintaining smear campaigns against judges, making them appear as opportunists only looking for personal gain, [results in] a weakening of citizens’ confidence in their own institutions,” he said.
“What we propose is dialogue, coordination and understanding between powers within the framework of exclusive, autonomous and independent powers created by the constitution for each of the organs of public power. The people deserve and demand that [the executive and legislative powers] act within the rule of law,” Vega said.
“We can’t call a country democratic where there is no counterweight of powers . . . A judge must be silent and prudent in his public life. However, we are here in an unprecedented way today, confirming our commitment to the law and the constitution . . .” he added.
On Twitter, the Supreme Court also rejected the president’s salary claim and linked to a publication in the government’s official gazette, which outlines judges’ pay structure.
“We reiterate that it is false that anyone in the PJF [federal judicial power] earns [a salary] even remotely close to 600,000 pesos a month,” the court said.
A table in the gazette publication shows that the 11 Supreme Court judges earn a monthly salary of 269,215 pesos (US $13,265), or 3.23 million pesos (US $159,000) a year.
However, they also receive bonuses and danger money that increase their annual salary to just under 4.23 million pesos. Other federal court judges receive lower salaries.
But López Obrador has said that many public officials, including judges, receive bonuses and other benefits that are hidden from the public.
Implementing a range of austerity measures and eliminating corruption are central to the president’s agenda and are needed to free up resources to pay for the government programs and projects he has announced.
At today’s morning press conference, López Obrador once again criticized the high salaries of judges, declaring that “only Donald Trump earns more than the president of the Supreme Court.”
He said that he would respect the court’s ruling to suspend the remuneration law but characterized it as unfair.
“. . . It’s a matter of principle, that’s why there was a change [in government]. It’s not like I arrived [to power] and it [suddenly] occurred to me to reduce the salaries of high-ranking officials, people knew it, I said it in all the squares.”