Panel analyzes the 2018 Mexican Election

From left to right, moderator Dr. David A. Shirk and election panelists, Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, Dr. Victor Espinoza, Dr. Clare Seelke, and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli.

From left to right: moderator Dr. David A. Shirk and panelists, Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, Dr. Victor Espinoza, Dr. Clare Seelke, and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli.

10/03/2018 (written by Rita Kuckertz) – On Thursday, September 20, 2018  Justice in Mexico, in collaboration with the University of San Diego’s Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR) program, hosted a panel of experts in order to discuss the significance of Mexico’s 2018 Presidential Election and what to expect from the incoming administration. Panelists included Clare Seelke of the Congressional Research Service; Dr. Victor Espinoza, Director of the Department of Public Administration at the Northern Border College (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, COLEF); Amb. Jeffrey Davidow, former U.S. Ambassador to Mexico; and Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli, faculty member in the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the University of San Diego (USD). Dr. David A. Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico and the Master of Arts in International Relations program, moderated the panel discussion.

A Watershed Election

Each guest speaker shared their expertise on the topic of Mexican politics in order to reflect on the nature and outcomes of Mexico’s July 1st vote. Given the exceptional nature of these elections, Dr. Shirk asked the panel of experts to especially consider the historic upset of traditional party alignments, the future of the U.S.-Mexico relationship, and the observed increase in political violence leading up to July, 2018.
Clare Seelke explained the triumph of Morena party candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador as the result of the public’s desire for radical political change. Seelke posited that other candidates running for the Mexican presidency, including Ricardo Anaya and José Antonio Meade, were essentially the same in the public eye. According to Seelke, the simple fact of López Obrador’s singularity amidst other traditional candidates may explain the “magnitude of the victory” at approximately 53% of the total vote.

The Future of U.S.-Mexico Relations

Reflecting on the implications of this outcome, Seelke questioned the future of U.S.-Mexico relations in the context of the shared drug and security crisis, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Mexico’s energy reform enacted during President Enrique Peña Nieto’s tenure. While Mexico has collaborated with the United States on each of these dimensions under Peña Nieto’s term from 2012 to 2018, Seelke expressed uncertainty regarding future bilateral cooperation on these matters.

The Vote from Abroad

Dr. Victor Espinoza from COLEF spoke at length about the significance of votes from abroad during the 2018 election. He explained that since 2006, there have been a total of twenty-six presidential, senatorial, gubernatorial, and local elections that allowed voters to participate from abroad. However, increasingly, the percentage of eligible voters living outside of Mexico has declined since 2006. In the July elections, Dr. Espinoza noted that this figure was “infinitesimal,” at less than 1% turnout. With 97% of eligible abroad voters living in the United States, this raises questions about the specific factors that have so drastically reduced the participation of eligible Mexican voters there. However, as Dr. Espinoza explained, other trends characterizing the abroad vote in previous elections were reversed; while Mexican voters living outside the country typically opt for conservative candidates, in 2018, the vote leaned left with Morena’s López Obrador.

Radical Change or Return to Ruling Party Politics?

While a historic election, Former Ambassador to Mexico Jeffrey Davidow argued that, in general, we tend to overanalyze the election of politicians. According to Amb. Davidow, López Obrador won the election because the vast majority of Mexicans who registered to vote were disillusioned with traditional political parties. Concerned about high levels of corruption and what they perceived to be a “rigged” system, the Mexican public opted for a new approach to politics. As such, Amb. Davidow argued that voters did not necessarily stand behind all of López Obrador’s policies; they simply wanted to prevent traditional party candidates from entering office.

However, despite his candidacy representing a change in the political order to many Mexicans, Amb. Davidow argued that López Obrador’s policies are reminiscent of the Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (Partido Revolucionario Insitutional, PRI) “ruling party” politics of the 1970s and 1980s. In his words, Amb. Davidow described López Obrador as “[tending] to view Mexican politics and policies not as a radical, but as someone who has never really accepted the modernization of Mexico.” Thus, while some have likened the incoming president to Hugo Chávez, Amb. Davidow argues that López Obrador hardly fits this characterization. Much like his PRI predecessors, López Obrador’s platform rests on the centralization of authority and the invigoration of state enterprises. As such, recent reforms, such as the historic energy and criminal procedure reforms, may see changes under the new administration. As Amb. Davidow put it, “Will it be devastating? We don’t know. But it will be different.”

Looking Ahead: Implications of an AMLO Presidency

Dr. Emily Edmonds-Poli, adding to Amb. Davidow’s analysis, reminded those in attendance that López Obrador was once a “staunch priista,” and much of his political behavior today is similar to that of thirty years ago. However, despite López Obrador’s steadfastness, Dr. Edmonds-Poli argued that his election was unprecedented in Mexico’s democratic era. As she explained, historically, those observing Mexican politics have argued that no candidate would ever win with a majority in the multi-party system, especially with a majority in Congress. Thus, the July 1 election was unprecedented in and of itself.

Given his election by majority, Dr. Edmonds-Poli contended that López Obrador does indeed have a mandate. However, what remains to be seen is whether the future president will be able to successfully fulfill this mandate. According to Dr. Edmonds-Poli, the stakes are certainly high; with the “groundswell of excitement” that accompanied the rise of Morena, López Obrador supporters (i.e., the majority of those who participated in the July 1 elections) are expectant of change. Should the future president remain in his 1970s political mold, this could severely damage not only his base of support and future legacy, but also, Mexico’s democracy itself. As Dr. Edmonds-Poli reminded viewers, recent public opinion polls found that only 49% of people expressed faith in democracy in Mexico. As such, given this fragile perception, any failure by the incoming government to fulfill its imperatives could inflict significant wounds on Mexican democracy. As with all matters discussed throughout the course of the panel, analysts will have to wait until December 1 to reevaluate Mexico’s course moving forward.

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Justice in Mexico Completes Second OASIS Study Trip

7/18/2018 (written by Quinn Skerlos)- From July 2 to July 14, Justice in Mexico held the second 2018 Oral-Adversary Skill-building Immersion (OASIS) Study trip at University of San Diego (USD). The participants were 13 administrators, students, and law faculty from the Universidad de Guadalajara (UdeG), and Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL), and Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla (BUAP). The OASIS study trippers were primarily composed of 12 law professors and law students from UdeG and UANL, but also included the Director of BUAP’s School of Law and Social Sciences, Luis Ochoa Bilbao. Now the eleventh OASIS study trip implemented by Justice in Mexico, these study trips provide a cultural immersion and study opportunity for selected Mexican law professors and students to experience the United States criminal justice system and meet with relevant legal experts, academics and public officials, including judges, professors, and attorneys. This program is made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs under the Mérida Initiative.

With the direction of OASIS Training Director, Janice Deaton, and OASIS Regional Director and USD law professor, Allen Snyder, the OASIS study trip participants attended a variety of lectures given by legal experts and academics, toured various facilities relevant to the United States criminal justice system, and engaged in group discussions guided by Janice Deaton and/or Allen Snyder. The majority of the study trip was held in San Diego at USD, however, participants also had the opportunity to visit San Francisco and meet with several public officials and representatives of the San Francisco community.

OASIS participants have the opportunity to meet and engage with various members of the legal community, including judges, attorneys, and law professors.

OASIS participants have the opportunity to meet and engage with various members of the legal community, including judges, attorneys, and law professors.

In San Diego, agenda highlights included: site visits to the San Dan Diego State and Federal Court, a tour of the San Diego Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC), a mock-trial simulation, and lectures led by legal professionals from the Public Defender’s Office, Office of the Attorney General, Pre-trial Services, etc. In San Francisco, participants visited and met with members of the Ninth Circuit Court and the San Francisco Superior Court, and toured the Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, a historical landmark and former high-security prison. Overall, the trip focused on providing analysis of the U.S. criminal justice system, and reinforcing the theory behind and practice of oral, adversarial and accusatorial criminal justice systems. This focus is intended to promote the participants’ appreciation for judicial reform in Mexico and reflect positively in their forthcoming academic and professional trajectories.

The program agenda’s accomplished guest speakers included: Allen Snyder (USD), Associate Dean Margaret Dalton (USD), Gregg McClain (Office of the District Attorney, San Diego), Scarlet Espinoza (Ninth Circuit Court, San Francisco), Judge Gerardo Sandoval (San Francisco Superior Court), Maria Elena Lopez Evangelista (Office of the Public Defender, San Francisco),  George Gascon (District Attorney of San Francisco), Judge Christopher Whitten (Superior Court of Maricopa County), Tony Da Silva (Office of the Attorney General, San Diego), Theresa Talplacido (San Diego MCC), Judge John Houston (District Judge for the Southern District of California), Janice Deaton (USD), Monique Carter (Office of the Public Defender, San Diego), Scott Pirrello (San Diego District Attorney’s Office), and Veronica Cataño Gonzalez (Supreme Court of Baja California).

Dr. David Shirk Receives University of San Diego 2016 International Impact Award

Dr. Shirk receives the 2016 International Impact Award. Source: USD News Center

Dr. Shirk receives the 2016 International Impact Award. Source: USD News Center

11/29/16 (written by Rita Kuckertz) — On Monday, November 14, 2016, the University of San Diego (USD) celebrated national International Education Week by hosting a luncheon to honor all USD faculty and staff who were nominated by their students and colleagues to receive the 2016 International Impact Award. USD’s Office of International Affairs awards this honor on an annual basis to USD faculty and staff who have made significant contributions to USD’s international education goals through their work to promote global education and understanding.

A panel of five international faculty members selected the award recipients from a pool of campus nominations. This year, of the eleven faculty and staff that were nominated, two faculty members were the recipients of the 2016 award— Justice in Mexico’s Dr. David Shirk and Dr. James Bolender (Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry).

Dr. Shirk, Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations, has demonstrated a profound commitment to international education and collaboration, particularly in his role as the Director of USD’s Justice in Mexico program. Dr. Shirk first created the Justice in Mexico project in 2001 at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and transitioned the program to USD in 2005. As such, this year marks the fifteen-year anniversary of Dr. Shirk’s international work through Justice in Mexico.

Dr. David Shirk receives this honor just as he publishes Justice in Mexico’s landmark study on operators of the Mexican judicial system, along with USD alumna Nancy Cortés and Justice in Mexico Program Coordinator Octavio Rodríguez. The 2016 Justiciabarómetro study examined judicial sector operators’ self-reported perspectives on Mexico’s new system of justice and their role in its operation.

Dr. Shirk continues his international work with a multi-million dollar grant awarded to him through the U.S. Department of State’s International Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). This grant funds Justice in Mexico’s Oral-Adversarial Skill Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS), a program in collaboration with the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM) Law School that provides international courses on litigation skills for UNAM Law School faculty and students.


Blystone, Ryan. “USD Award Rewards Professors’ International Impact.” USD News Center. November 16, 2016.

Justice In Mexico Awarded $2 Million Grant to Continue OASIS

OASIS_two colors_cmyk-0110/22/15 (written by mwagoner) – University of San Diego’s Justice in Mexico program has been awarded a $2.35 million grant to continue its work on the Oral Adversarial Skill-Building Immersion Seminar (OASIS). This is the second round of funding awarded to Justice in Mexico by the International Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) through the Merida Initiative. The goal is to conduct a new set of training courses, international study trips and symposia on oral adversarial litigation skills over the next two years.

Justice Alberto Pérez Dayán of the Mexican Supreme Court, Dr. Ma. Leoba Castañeda Rivas, Director of the UNAM Law School, and Dr. David Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of San Diego. The photo was taken at OASIS symposium held at UNAM Law School, Sept 24-25, 2015.

Justice Alberto Pérez Dayán of the Mexican Supreme Court, Dr. Ma. Leoba Castañeda Rivas, Director of the UNAM Law School, and Dr. David Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of San Diego. The photo was taken at OASIS international symposium held at UNAM Law School, Sept 24-25, 2015.

OASIS advocacy training program is intended to provide skill building and exchange opportunities for legal professionals and students. The current INL-sponsored partnership, will help law faculty and students at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, UNAM), Mexico’s largest public university to improve the long-term functioning of the Mexican justice system in anticipation of major criminal procedural reforms to be implemented by June 18, 2016.

OASIS has three specific objectives that will continue to guide Justice in Mexico’s efforts during years two and three of its partnership with UNAM: 1) provide three 40-hour litigation workshops to law professors and students of UNAM’s Law School, 2) provide three training/study tours to the United States; and 3) provide one international symposium on oral, adversarial, accusatory criminal justice systems, Mexico’s criminal justice reforms, and the role law schools will play in the transition to this new criminal justice system.

The OASIS grant employs a half dozen USD alumni and dozens more have collaborated with the project in recent years, giving them opportunities for hands on experience in project management and working with leading experts to make a difference in addressing real world policy issues.

Dr. David Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico, said that “there are arguably few issues more important in Mexico and U.S.-Mexico relations today than strengthening the rule of law, security, and human rights. Our students and graduates are getting to be a direct part of that effort. In this sense, Justice in Mexico is one of the programs that helps realize and express our University’s commitment to promoting social justice, not to mention to working with Mexico and the border community of which we are a part.”

“The OASIS program is unique in its duration and impact,” Dr. Shirk explains, “This kind of educational outreach and policy engagement is frankly not supported at major research institutions, which tend to be myopically focused on purely “academic” research. The fact that we’ve been able to sustain this program here—with generous support from private and government donors—is one of the things that helps make the University of San Diego such a unique place, both for our faculty and our students.”

Over the course of the past year 240 UNAM law school professors and students have been trained in the OASIS program, and the new funding will allow Justice in Mexico to train 480 more over the next two years.


OASIS International Study Trip in San Diego


OASIS San Diego participants (University of San Diego)

08/28/2015 (written by msmith) – Eight faculty and five students from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Law School were chosen to participate in a two-week study trip to learn about the U.S. criminal justice system. Called the Justice in Mexico Oral Advocacy Skill-building Immersion Seminar (OASIS), this study trip was made possible by a grant from the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement as part of the Mérida Initiative. During their two weeks in San Diego, the UNAM visitors participated in a series of workshops with USD law professor Allen Snyder as well as special sessions with trial judge Chris Whitten, prosecutor Gregg McClain, criminal defense attorney Ezekiel Cortez, private investigator Juan Lopez, Judge David Danielson, and Deputy Attorney General Anthony da Silva.

On the first day, participants toured University of San Diego and watched a specially edited version of the 1979 ABC documentary, “The Shooting of Big Man: Anatomy of a Criminal Case,” based on a Harvard law research project. Professor Allen Snyder led discussions following the film focused on such topics as how the argument of self-defense was a key factor in determining the outcome of the case. There are two parts of self-defense, the defense had to prove that the defendant was actually afraid and that it was reasonable. Professor Snyder emphasized how the defense attorneys had to also connect with the jury on an emotional level and not just an intellectual level to make sure they could understand how the defendant felt during the incident. Another important discussion that came from watching the film was the question why is the judge not the expert of the law rather than the jury? Professor Snyder’s response was, If Jack Jones, the defendant, was afraid, what expertise does a person need to have to understand that fear? As Professor Snyder explained there is also a downside of expertise when judges start lumping together all criminal defendants because they have seen so many cases.

State prosecutor Gregg McClain discussed with participants the organization of the state prosecution system. McClain described the role of the prosecutor as being the person who decides if the great weight of the state should come down on a person accused of a crime. What matters to the prosecutor is the evidence and therefore the duty to investigate is of the highest importance. The danger of young lawyers is whether the state must punish someone to the maximum. McClain tries to show young lawyers the larger picture and look at what is right, what is justice in each particular case. Thus, for McClain, taking special attention to look at whether the defendant is opportunistic or dangerous, drug driven or antisocial, and asking the questions can the defendant be convinced not to commit crimes, if he wants rehabilitation, education, whether he is employable should also play an important role in the prosecutors sentences.

OASIS San Diego participants meet with Anthony Da Silva

OASIS San Diego participants meet with Anthony Da Silva

The OASIS participants visited the California Attorney General’s office in downtown San Diego. Participants met with several attorneys, beginning with Anthony DaSilva. Mr. DaSilva spoke to participants regarding the appellate process. He discussed the appellate briefs; what needs to be included in the briefs; time limits, and oral arguments. Oral arguments are held in San Diego in front of the Fourth Appellate District of California, and most argument last from ten to fifteen minutes per side.

The appellate court relies on the criminal codes, laws, and case precedent when deciding the case. They hear arguments and read the briefs. After the oral argument, they have 90 days to render their decision in the form of a written opinion (published) or a memorandum (not published). Following the decision of the appellate court, a litigant may appeal to the Supreme Court of California.

Mr. DaSilva also discussed the death penalty. These cases have automatic appeal to the Supreme Court, and begin with the appellate courts. They are very backlogged, up to twenty years in the Federal Circuits. Mr. DaSilva explained which cases can be charged with the death penalty.   He also explained the victims’ families may be present for the execution, and in California it is done with lethal injection. Finally Mr. DaSilva spoke regarding habeas corpus. The participants were very interested in this mechanism, as there is a similar one in Mexico called “Amparo.” The grounds for habeas corpus are a violation of Constitutional rights during the criminal proceedings, ineffective assistance of counsel, or insufficient evidence for a conviction.

Participants also met with criminal defense attorney Ezekiel Cortez, and attorney Janice Deaton’s private investigator Juan Antonio Lopez. Janice Deaton is also a criminal defense attorney. Mr. Cortez is a past representative for the Criminal Justice Act attorneys with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. He spoke with the group regarding the realities faced by criminal defendants in federal court, the plea bargaining system and the sentencing structure in American courts. Mr. Cortez answered questions regarding any differences in penalties and sentenced imposed upon defendants who choose to go to trial and those who plead guilty. He also addressed oral trial training efforts both within the United States and throughout Latin America. Licensed private investigator Juan Lopez gave a brief introduction about defense investigation in criminal cases, about the licensing requirements for investigators, and about subpoena powers enjoyed by the defense in criminal cases. He was asked about international investigations and what type of subpoena powers he has in, for example, Mexico. Mr. Lopez and Ms. Deaton discussed common issues that arise in investigating cases for trial.

OASIS San Diego participants with Judge Danielsen

OASIS San Diego participants with Judge Danielsen

Judge David Danielsen and participants met in the Hall of Justice Court House downtown courtroom where Judge Danielsen discussed the history of modern sentencing and the problems with our US criminal justice system. He discussed prison overcrowding and the fact that California has only 10 University of California campuses while it has 33 prisons. He also talked about how poor people have to represent themselves so he asked how do we deliver justice to people who can’t afford it. Judge Danielsen also mentioned racism as a major problem in this country and the disproportionate number of people of color coming before the criminal courts.

Following this discussion, participants attended a moot court of an appellate oral argument, sponsored by the Federal Bar Association at the San Diego Federal Courthouse. United States District Court Judges John A. Houston, Marilyn L. Huff, and Ninth Circuit Judge Owens presided over an oral argument regarding the Voting Rights Act. The moot court was held to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Voting Rights Act.

On the participant’s last day, Arizona civil and tax court judge Chris Whitten took participants through a mock readiness hearing. A readiness hearing is a hearing in front of the judge with the prosecutor and defense attorney present where the parties decide if the case is going to trial, continued or some plea bargain reached. Participants also heard from Judge Whitten on the limiting amount of power judges now have when prosecutors are given so much control with the plea agreements. According to Judge Whitten, there is no check on the prosecutor and that if a judge does not agree to a plea agreement, the prosecutor will go to another judge. In Judge Whitten’s words, the judge’s hands are bound by their plea agreements. A judge is supposed to have discretion but in our current system discretion is removed and given to the prosecutor because of plea agreements.

Dr. David Shirk, Director of Justice in Mexico and Associate Professor in Political Science at University of San Diego, made closing comments about the OASIS initiative and the significance of thinking long term with reasonable expectations when contemplating judicial reform in Mexico. Participants participated in a closing ceremony with Dr. Shirk, UNAM law professor Jacqueline Zenteno Hernandez, UNAM law professor Maria de Lourdes Chamol Rodriguez, Judge Chris Whitten, Professor Allen Snyder and Mr. Octavio Rodriguez where participants were given their certificates of participation.