Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that its constitution does not grant federal representatives speech immunity for any and all statements they make. As such, they can be sued for alleged-slanderous statements under certain conditions. The case involved a civil suit between two former legislators from opposing parties.
In May 2006, Germán Martínez Cázares— a member of the National Action Party (Partido de Acción Nacional, PAN) serving in the federal Chamber of Deputies— accused then-Senator Manuel Bartlett Díaz of being responsible for the 1984 assassination of journalist Manuel Buendía and for the rigging of the 1988 presidential election (believed by many to have been fraudulent). Mr. Bartlett Díaz belongs to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, PRI), which won the 1988 election.
Mr. Barlett Díaz sued for damages, but the lower courts dismissed his suit saying that Mr. Martínez Cázares is protected from such slander charges by Article 61 of the Mexican constitution. However, the Supreme Court reversed these previous rulings and said his statements are not protected. It stated that Article 61 gives representatives speech immunity to perform their functions as legislators without impediment. The law concerns their legislative activities as members of Congress. The court rejected the idea that this protection applies to any public activities they may do, including activities unrelated to their role in the Congress.
Mr. Martínez’s comments were made before the Federal Electoral Institute (Instituto Federal Electoral, IFE) and were in response to Mr. Barlett Díaz’s suggestion that the PRI endorse another party’s presidential candidate in order to defeat the PAN’s nominee: then-candidate Felipe Calderón. The eight-member majority stated that Mr. Martínez was not acting as a member of the Congress, but rather as a member of his party. Two judges that dissented from the majority opinion said the court erred in this decision. The judges stated that rather than promote good behavior by legislators, this ruling hindered their freedom of expression.