The ministers of the Supreme Court of National Justice (Suprema Corte de Justicia Nacional, SCJN) unanimously voted to annul the legislature’s decision to dissolve two municipalities: San Pedro Jicayán and San Pedro Huamelula. In September 2009, the Oaxaca state legislature dissolved the towns’ municipal governments, replacing the local elected authorities with an administrator temporarily appointed by the governor to manage local affairs.
This was done in response to a series of public disturbances that year. These included the April assassination of Beatriz López Leyva (a local political figure active in San Pedro Jicayán), confrontations between local teachers unions that resulted in one death, and the resignation of San Pedro Huamelula’s mayor in July.
The right to dissolve a municipality (desaparición de poderes) and remove its current governmental officials was not disputed. Various state governments, as well as the federal constitution, permit this. Rather, the case dealt with procedural issues. When a municipality is formally dissolved, it can hold new elections, its public officials may be replaced by designated alternates, or the town can be incorporated into an adjacent municipality. However, usually the public officials are not removed until the formal proceedings are finalized.
In this case, the Oaxaca state legislature replaced them immediately upon initiating these proceedings. The country’s Supreme Court said that a municipality’s public officials must be given the opportunity to defend their case in court before being removed. To have them kicked out immediately and without any legal recourse until a final decision is made violates the federal constitution.
The high court also declared unconstitutional the law allowing this indefinite temporary suspension. Article 87 of the Oaxaca state law concerning municipalities empowers the state legislature to suspend a municipality’s existing local government immediately and for the duration of the formal proceedings. The court ordered the public officials removed to return to their positions until the conclusion of these proceedings.