Mexico’s governmental system is rooted in the Constitution of 1917, which incorporated many of the features of its reformist predecessor of 1857. The 1917 document, with amendments, remains in force. Although drafted at the behest of conservative revolutionary Venustiano Carranza by his handpicked Querétaro “Constitucionalista” Congress, it was greatly influenced by Álvaro Obregón and generally ignored by Carranza during his subsequent three-year presidential term.
Although many articles resemble those of its U.S. model, the Constitution of 1917 contains provisions developed directly from Mexican experience. Article 27 addresses the question of land. Private property rights are qualified by societal need; subsoil rights are public property; and foreigners and corporations are severely restricted in land ownership. Although the 1917 constitution declared ejido land inviolate, 1994 amendments allow, under certain circumstances, the sale or use of communal land as loan security.
Article 23 severely restricts church powers. In declaring that “places of worship are the property of the nation,” it stripped churches of all title to real estate, without compensation. Article 5 and Article 130 banned religious orders, expelled foreign clergy, and denied priests and ministers all political rights, including voting, holding office, and even criticizing the government.
Article 123 establishes the rights of labor: to organize, bargain collectively, strike, work a maximum eight-hour day, and receive a minimum wage. Women are to receive equal pay for equal work and be given a month’s paid leave for childbearing. Article 123 also establishes social security plans for sickness, unemployment, pensions, and death.
On paper, Mexico’s constitutional government structures appear much like their U.S. prototypes: a federal presidency, a two-house Congress, and a Supreme Court, with their counterparts in each of the 32 states. Political parties field candidates, and all citizens vote by secret ballot.
Mexico’s presidents, however, have traditionally enjoyed greater powers than their U.S. counterparts. They need not seek legislative approval for many cabinet appointments, can suspend constitutional rights under a state of siege, can initiate legislation, veto all or parts of bills, refuse to execute laws, and replace state officers. The federal government, moreover, retains nearly all taxing authority, relegating the states to a role of merely administering federal programs.
Although ideally providing for separation of powers, the Constitution of 1917 subordinates both the legislative and judicial branches, with the courts being the weakest of all. The Supreme Court, for example, can only, with repeated deliberation, decide upon the constitutionality of legislation. Five separate individuals must file successful petitions for writs amparo (protection) on a single point of law in order to affect constitutional precedent.