The Centralization of Justice or the Corruption of the Porfirian Judiciary, 1877–1900

Saturday, January 7, 2012: 2:50 PM
Michigan Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Timothy M. James, University of South Carolina Beaufort
The period from 1877 to 1900 is an especially formative one in the history of Mexico’s system of constitutional justice known as the amparo suit. That this period is also known for the consolidation of the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, thus, presents something of a problem for historical interpretation. The traditional view is that, “the Porfirian judiciary hardly provided legal interpretations, for it lacked the necessary degree of independence.” Others, however, have recently suggested that, “Ironically, it was during this same period that the Supreme Court developed the basic doctrines surrounding the use of amparo to protect constitutional rights.” 

My proposed paper lends support to the latter view through its focus on just one of these basic doctrines, an interpretation of article 14 that was to endure far into the post-revolutionary period. On the one hand, this doctrine allowed the federal judiciary to correct for arbitrary acts perpetrated by the local justice system. On the other hand, this doctrine had the unintended consequence of bringing about a de facto centralization of the administration of justice in civil and criminal matters, an invasion of state sovereignty that was decried by the Porfirian jurist Emilio Rabasa. Rabasa argued that this jurisprudence was also responsible for the corruption of the judiciary and Mexico’s system of constitutional defense more generally. Although Rabasa’s diagnosis of the problem remains influential, it is also true that many of Rabasa’s lesser-known Porfirian contemporaries disagreed strongly with his conclusions. Thus, my paper will seek to reconcile these contradictory appraisals of the process by which ‘amparo-cassation’ jurisprudence was consolidated, using a rich source base of nineteenth century book and pamphlet literature, the careful reading and analysis of 2,130 amparo cases, and judicial branch archives.