This paper explores the conflict over the monopolization of constitutional interpretation between 1850 and 1857, through an analysis of the judicial decisions and doctrine of Manuel Teodosio Alvírez. Alvírez had been a law professor as well as president of the state of Michoacán’s supreme court. He is best known for his polemic with Bishop Munguía in respect to diocesan decrees that prohibited the taking of an oath of loyalty to the liberal Constitution of 1857. Alvírez defended the state’s right to regulate religious questions, grounding his arguments on its authority to interpret the constitution and laws. For Alvírez, bishops were completely lacking in the power to interpret or denounce the validity of the constitution; this was exclusively within the authority of the Congress and the higher tribunals. For the bishop, in contrast, this power did not reside exclusively within the state, but was one that the Church also could exercise. It was a dispute that would be resolved definitively only with the liberals’ military triumph in 1867, and the complete separation between Church and state. It is then that the development of judge-made, constitutional law in Mexico’s federal courts begins.
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