Mexico president defends Supreme Court chief justice's term extension

·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: Supreme Court judge Arturo Zaldivar Lelo de Larrea attends a meeting at Supreme Court building in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador on Monday defended a vote by Mexico's congress to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice, saying the judge needed more time to oversee reform of a compromised judiciary.

The congress, which is controlled by Lopez Obrador's MORENA party, last week voted to prolong the term of Supreme Court President Arturo Zaldivar by two years until Nov. 30, 2024, after the extension was included in a raft of judicial reforms.

The president said the judicial overhaul would ensure that "the judges are not, as now, at the service of the powerful" and that Zaldivar was the right man to see it through.

"We consider that Justice Arturo Zaldivar is a person of integrity who could carry out this reform in two years," Lopez Obrador told a regular news conference.

"It is not a re-election," he added.

Critics of the government say Zaldivar is supportive of Lopez Obrador and worry that the step could set a precedent for extending the terms of other officials. The constitution stipulates the head of the court serves for four years only.

Lopez Obrador has repeatedly criticized judges who have delayed or frustrated some of his signature legislative initiatives, including measures to strengthen Mexico's state-run energy companies at the expense of private investors.

The president argued that while some judges were honest in Mexico, "the majority" were in hock to powerful interests.

Zaldivar, who has sought to keep his distance from the term extension proposal without rejecting it outright, has suggested that the other members of the Supreme Court will have the final say.

Lopez Obrador has repeatedly said he has no intention of seeking to extend his own term, which concludes in late 2024. Presidents can only serve a single six-year term in Mexico.

(Reporting by Raul Cortes Fernandez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)