Employees of Mexico’s judicial system protested across the country on Tuesday morning against a proposed cut to funding for the federal judiciary.
Court workers in Mexico City, Morelos, Tamaulipas, Puebla, Michoacán, Veracruz and Jalisco were among those who joined protests convened by the Union of Federal Judicial Power Workers (STPJF) and the College of Secretaries and Court Clerks of the Federal Judiciary (CSAJF).
Court workers also protested in some parts of the country on Monday, including in Mexico City, where they blocked several roads.
What exactly are they protesting?
On Oct. 10, the Budget and Public Accounts Committee of the lower house of Congress approved a bill that seeks to eliminate 13 of 14 public trusts that provide funding for the Supreme Court (SCJN), the Federal Electoral Tribunal and the Federal Judiciary Council (CJF).
Their elimination would cut funding for the federal judiciary by 15.45 billion pesos (US $858.7 million) in 2024.
The bill, backed by President López Obrador and the ruling Morena party, is yet to be considered by the broader Congress. Morena and its allies have a majority in both the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate.
The bill, which seeks to modify the Organic Law of the Federal Judicial Power, will pass Congress with the support of a simple majority.
What is Morena’s view?
Morena argues that the trust funds are not managed with transparency and afford Supreme Court justices and other senior judges undue privileges, such as allowances for gasoline and highway tolls.
The bill states that the existence of “economic benefits of privilege” that go to “a very small group of officials” is “absolutely unacceptable.”
It also says that the trusts have been subject to criticism due to the vast amount of money held in them and “the fact” that the money is mainly used to pay “special benefits.”
What does President López Obrador say?
López Obrador, a frequent critic of judges, said last week that the purpose of the bill is to cut privileges enjoyed by those occupying the highest ranking positions in Mexico’s judicial system, including Supreme Court justices. He said that at least one judge even had cosmetic plastic surgery “at the expense of the treasury.”
López Obrador asserted that the proposed elimination of the trusts won’t affect lower level court employees.
“It’s about [ending] privileges. [Ordinary workers] won’t be left without salaries, without their basic benefits. No court will be closed, nobody will be dismissed,” he said.
The president prides himself on leading an austere government that has already cut the salaries of many high-ranking officials. He said Tuesday that money saved through the elimination of the judicial trusts would be used to fund educational scholarships for “more than 2 million poor children.”
The judiciary’s opinion
The Supreme Court said in a statement that the elimination of 13 trusts would indeed “affect the work rights” of federal judiciary workers.
“At least six trusts are related to employer obligations,” the SCJN said, adding that meeting those obligations is necessary to guarantee workers’ labor and social security rights, including “pension, housing, health coverage and retirement” rights.
It said that those rights are outlined in the Constitution of Mexico, the Federal Law on Workers at the Service of the State and in various “legal instruments.”
“The operation personnel of the Federal Judicial Power [PJF], which represents more than 60% of staff, are the main beneficiaries of the work benefits linked to the trusts,” the SCJN added.
“The elimination of the trusts DOES limit the operational capacity of the PJF and, with that, the right to access justice, to the harm of society as a whole,” the court said.
It also said that “the management of the trusts is transparent and has mechanisms of accountability.”
Court workers on Monday protested outside the Chamber of Deputies and set up traffic blockades at at least eight different points in Mexico City, according to media reports. The El País newspaper reported that court employees in other states also took to the streets on Monday to express opposition to the proposed elimination of the trusts.
Trabajadores del Poder Judicial de la Federación. durante sus protestas que se llevaron simultáneamente en varios partes de la #CDMX quemaron una piñata de #AMLO. Los manifestantes piden que no haya recorte al #Presupuesto. Afectaciones viales en la zona de @BJAlcaldia. #ULTIMO pic.twitter.com/BBFVBzDML0
— Pablo Castorena (@jpcastorena) October 16, 2023
Protesters in Mexico City set fire to a piñata effigy of AMLO on Monday
At one protest in the Mexico City borough of Benito Juárez, court employees set fire to a piñata effigy of López Obrador and chanted “fuera AMLO” – a directive for him to leave office.
The SCJN and the CJF later condemned the “symbolic expressions of hate” that occurred during the protests.
The STPJF and the CSAJF issued a statement last Friday calling on court employees across Mexico to protest outside their workplaces starting at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The workers have also been asked to dress in white to demonstrate their opposition to the proposed funding cuts.
Jesús Gilberto González Pimentel, secretary general of the STPJF, said that the protests were against the proposed elimination of the trusts as well as the “constant dismissive insults” López Obrador directs at the Mexico’s judicial system and its employees.
“If we don’t make our voices heard in defense of our rights … we’ll create the idea in society that we’re unable to defend [the rights] of those who come to courts and tribunals to seek justice, he said.
Court workers on Tuesday blocked roads in Mexico City, Zapopan, Cancún, Ciudad Victoria and Puebla City among other locations around the country, according to the news website Infobae. Clashes between workers and police were reported at two locations in Mexico City.
Protests were also held outside the Supreme Court and the Chamber of Deputies in the national capital.
A protest is planned at the Chamber of Deputies on Oct. 24, the day on which an “open parliament” session to discuss the 2024 budget will be held.
Deputies are reportedly scheduled to vote on the judiciary funding bill on Tuesday, but as of 3 p.m. a vote hadn’t been held.