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Mexico elects first female Supreme Court president

A screen shows the ceremony in which Norma Lucia Pina prepares to take the oath as president of the Supreme Court of Justice while speaking on a television screen in the press room of the Supreme Court building in Mexico City, Mexico Jan 2, 2023. (HENRY ROMERO / REUTERS)

MEXICO CITY – Mexico's Supreme Court on Monday elected its first female president, who has pushed back against the government's nationalist energy agenda, amid a succession process clouded by allegations of plagiarism against another justice competing for the job.

By a 6-5 majority vote, the justices chose Norma Pina to head Mexico's highest court, putting in place a member appointed to the tribunal under the previous administration.

Norma Pina takes over from Arturo Zaldivar amid a charged debate about who should lead the court fueled by a December media report alleging that another contender for the top job, Justice Yasmin Esquivel, had plagiarized her undergraduate thesis

Pina has defended Mexico's transition to renewable energy, setting her against parts of a contentious electricity law championed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador that favors the country's state-run, fossil-fuel dependent energy firms.

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She takes over from Arturo Zaldivar amid a charged debate about who should lead the court fueled by a December media report alleging that another contender for the top job, Justice Yasmin Esquivel, had plagiarized her undergraduate thesis.

Esquivel vehemently denied the accusation, which triggered an investigation by her alma mater, the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).

Lopez Obrador, who nominated Esquivel to sit on the 11-member court in 2019, had blasted the plagiarism report by media outlet Latinus as an attempt to discredit the government and what he calls his transformation of Mexico.

The president has pressured the court to back his policies, in particular his drive to give control of the energy sector to national power utility Comision Nacional de Electricidad (CFE) and state oil firm Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex).

Lopez Obrador argues that past governments, including the previous administration headed by Enrique Pena Nieto, skewed the energy market in favor of private companies.

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His electricity bill ended up at the Supreme Court, and Pina cited Mexico's constitutional obligation to cut its carbon footprint in voting down sections of the law, including one that gave priority to CFE in connecting power plants to the grid.