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Mexican Supreme Court building. Photo: Getty Images.

Mexico Supreme Court elevates female justice to top post

Justice Norma Lucía Piña, noted as a progressive judge, is the first woman elected as the country’s chief justice.

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The Mexico Supreme Court made history on Monday, Jan. 2, when it elected its first female justice to its top judicial role, a setback for Mexico President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. 

With a six-vote majority, Hon. Norma Lucía Piña ascends to Mexico’s highest court as a progressive judge who has been vocal about women’s rights, the LGBTQ+ community, and the right to recreational marihuana. 

Five ministers voted against her nomination, the Associated Press reported. 

Hon. Piña enters a four-year term, helming an 11-member court and pledging judicial independence. 

A teacher turned lawyer, Hon. Piña obtained her law degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico in 1986 and focused on criminal law in the following years of her career as a new attorney. 

She then clerked in the Supreme Court for six years before she became a district judge in 1998. 

Two years later, Hon. Piña was presiding over a federal court in the District for the Administrative Courts.

In 2012, she was offered the opportunity to sit on Mexico’s highest court by Enrique Peña Nieto, former President, but her nomination failed twice. 

She ultimately succeeded Olga Sánchez Cordero in 2015, making her the 11th woman to sit on the Supreme Court. 

“Judicial independence is indispensable in resolving conflicts between the branches of government,” Hon. Piña said Monday in her speech, according to reporting by the Associated Press

“My main proposal is to work to build majorities, leaving aside my personal vision.”

Bullish about her position, Hon. Piña has maintained in press interviews that her nomination and subsequent vote should not come as a surprise, despite the fact that President López Obrador placed pressure on other presiding ministers of the court to vote otherwise. 

“They know how I think, how I vote, my conviction,” Hon. Piña told Spanish paper El País

But while Hon. Piña says she is steadfast against undue influence from the executive branch, López Obrador has not shied away from making his dissatisfaction public and said in a news conference the “judicial power has been hijacked.” 

He delivered these remarks just one hour before the final vote, which carried Hon. Piña into her seat. 

During his term, López Obrador has created a rocky relationship with the courts in trying to pass through legislation ultimately blocked by the country’s judges.

Installing a friendly judge, reporting says, was key for the president, who desperately needed an ally in the judicial halls. 

He’d initially nominated another female candidate, Justice Yasmín Esquivel, to fill the vacancy, but her resume was embroiled in controversy when allegations of plagiarism dominated the news cycle. 

It is said that Esquivel plagiarized her undergraduate thesis in the 1980s, though she maintains her integrity

Her alma mater said they are still evaluating the case and have not determined whether Esquivel engaged in what is considered capital transgression in academia. 

“As a woman of values, I believe in transparency and honesty; in this process to which I’ve been subject to a campaign of lies and defamation,” Justice Esquivel wrote in a written statement. 

There have been no conclusive findings in her case. 

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