Monday, February 20, 2012

Mexico's high court rejects lie detectors, drug tests, psych profiles for political candidates

Chiapas statute which sought to sanitize politics derailed by federal supremacy and due process restrictions; candidacy requirements must be "clear, specific, foreseen"

The Supreme Judicial Court of Mexico today invalidated a state law which mandated that all public office seekers submit to polygraphs, drug tests and psychological fitness profiles before their names would be approved for placement on the ballot.

The case came to Mexico's highest tribunal from the southwestern state of Chiapas, which adopted the controversial law several years ago. Mexico is a federal union of sovereign states, much like the United States, each one of which may enact its own civil and criminal code. However, the Supreme Court has both the right and the legal duty to review any state law which is alleged to run afoul of the country's federal constitution and laws.

Today's case was initiated in 2011 when Mexico's attorney general, the Procuraduría General de la República, challenged the Chiapas statute as an unlawful infringement on powers reserved to the federal government (which generally sets most prerequisites for public office holders). In sustaining the legal challenge the Supreme Court reasoned that the core requirements for candidacy -- such as lawful age and actual residency in the political unit or geographical region to be represented -- are fully set out in the Mexican constitution and in federal election laws. No state or local entity may substantially add to or expand upon them, said the high court judges, who are known as ministers in this country. It is clear from today's ruling that the court was concerned about an endless tapestry of additional candidacy requirements which Mexico's 32 states might individually decide to adopt, leading to a patchwork quilt of local election laws that could confuse -- and deter -- prospective candidates for national office.

The Supreme Court no doubt had some practical issues in mind as well. Would any/every political candidate with a mental health history -- such as depression or bi-polar disorder, for instance -- automatically be disqualified, even though the ailment was well controlled by medication and/or psychotherapy? And who would make the decision on such matters - a mental health professional, or an election board? The Chiapas statute contained no guidance on such questions, leaving an office seeker at the mercy of local authorities, and their determination as to whether the candidate was indeed psychologically fit to serve.

Earlier this month, National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota said that she and all of her staff would submit to both polygraph and toxicological tests if she won her party's nomination ( Vázquez Mota handily took the PAN primary on Feb. 5, capturing about 54% of the approximately 547,000 internal party ballots cast in the three way race (

Neither Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, nor the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) nominee Andrés Manuel López Obrador, have yet indicated whether they and their immediate staffs will submit to similar tests in advance of Mexico's July 1 presidential election.

*A footnote on "special" election requirements: A fascinating case recently arose in southern Arizona which raised similar issues. A woman of Mexican origin who is a U.S. citizen entered a local city council race. Her English is very limited, probably at basic communication level. The city attorney challenged her candidacy on the ground that she does not possess sufficient command of English to discuss and debate the type of matters commonly dealt with at city council meetings. The woman and her attorney persuasively argued that almost all of her potential constituents are also of Mexican origin, and are thus native Spanish speakers, particularly qualifying her to represent their interests (better than a native English speaker, they suggested). The woman claims that she understands enough English to be able to decipher city council proceedings.

A court hearing was held and the judge gave the woman a brief English communication test. She didn't do very well. So the judge disqualified her, even though there is nothing in Arizona law which states how much English someone must know in order to run for public office. The woman then appealed to the Arizona Supreme Court, which upheld the disqualification order within a few days. Was justice done? Maybe so, maybe not, but the case illustrates the problem of applying candidacy requirements which are not sufficiently detailed so that some reasonable definition (in this case, of a candidate's English ability) may be applied equally to everyone.

Polygraphs await half a million Mexican cops:

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