Mexico (United Mexican States) is a federal republic made up of thirty-one states plus Mexico City. Mexico follows a civil law system, and its constitution has supremacy over all other sources of domestic and international law.
Mexico has both state and federal court systems. Federal courts have jurisdiction over cases involving federal statues and constitutional questions.
The Supreme Court (Suprema Corte de Justicia de la Nación) has the power of judicial review and may overturn legislation it deems unconstitutional. There are eleven justices and one chief justice, all appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate to fifteen-year terms with no mandatory retirement age. Candidates to the Court are not permitted to have served in the executive or legislative branch within one year prior to their appointment. The Chief Justice is selected by a vote of the other justices to a four-year term.
The Court meets in joint session and in separate chambers, depending on the type of case. There are five chambers, each with five justices: penal, administrative, civil, labor, and auxiliary (all other) cases. Rulings of any chamber can be overturned by the full Court.
Judges of the lower federal courts are appointed by the Supreme Court to renewable 4-year terms and have a mandatory retirement age of 75. The Collegiate Circuit Courts sit in panels of three magistrates and preside over cases involving individual rights, amparo suits, appeals against sentences issued by district judges, and administrative complaints. The Unitary Circuit Courts hear all other appeals, in panels of six. The district courts hear cases in the first instance with a single judge presiding. Specialized administrative courts have jurisdiction over a range of subjects including broadcasting, telecommunications, antitrust, employment, and taxation. The Electoral Tribunal is independent of the Supreme Court and presides over election matters. Its judges are nominated by the Supreme Court and must be confirmed by two-thirds of the Senate.
The Federal Judicial Council is responsible for judicial administration and the supervision and discipline of lower court federal judges.
A 2021 judicial reform law included expansion of jurisprudencia, Mexico’s version of precedent. Under the new law, a Supreme Court judgement signed by at least 8 justices has the immediate power of precedent. Cases decided by at least four justices sitting on a Court plenary panel are also deemed mandatory precedent. Prior to the passage of this law, a Court judgment became precedent only after five consistent judgments. For unanimous rulings issued by the circuit collegiate tribunals, five consistent judgments are still required for a ruling to assume precedential value.
The Writ of Amparo
The writ of Amparo is a distinguishing feature of Mexico’s judicial system. The word “amparo” means protection or aid. The writ was introduced in the mid-19th century to protect the rights of citizens against government abuses and is incorporated in Articles 103 and 107 of Mexico’s constitution.
Amparo suits are among the most common causes of action in Mexico’s federal courts and can be filed in the district, circuit, or supreme court. They are used to protect individuals from laws or acts by government officials that violate rights established by the constitution and applicable human rights conventions. This includes actions against unconstitutional laws, judicial decisions, or administrative actions and resolutions. However, in Mexico, the writ cannot be used against private individuals.
A petitioner—either an individual or a group—may file a writ of amparo for the violation of any right, whether protected explicitly or implicitly by the constitution or international treaty. There are different types of amparo writs. The most expansive, Amparo omnicomprensivo, protects all the fundamental rights and freedoms and the general supremacy of the constitutional order. In 2013, a new amparo law authorized the executive and legislative branches to request that the Supreme Court expedite review of urgent amparo appeals in the interest of social justice or to maintain public order. The new law also extended amparo protections to collective interests such as environmental rights, as well as cultural and historical interests.
Other Latin and South American countries have adopted Amparo mechanisms similar to Mexico’s. Often, the writ is free or inexpensive to file, and does not require the assistance of counsel. In Mexico, there is no date by which the petitioner must file their claim, but other countries have instituted relatively short statutes of limitations. Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Costa Rica have sixty-day statutes of limitations for these actions, and Bolivia and Venezuela require the petitioner to file within six months. The Philippines also has a writ of Amparo.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the writ of Amparo was used to compel government authorities to implement measures mitigating the pandemic’s impact, including postponing tax payments, supporting medical personnel, making COVID-19 information accessible to the disabled, and providing access to health care for migrants in Mexican facilities.