An Electronic Guide to Mexican Law


By Francisco A. Avalos and Elisa Donnadieu


Published November, 2005
Read the Update!


Francisco Avalos is Foreign and International Law Librarian at the University of Arizona College of Law Library. He obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona in 1971 and his Master of Library Science in 1976. He is the author of several books and articles dealing with the legal system and history of Mexico. He has served as past President and Secretary of AALL FCIL- SIS and has made several presentations on the Mexican legal system at national conferences and conventions. He has been a special consultant to the National Law Center for Inter-American Free Trade for the last ten years.


Elisa Donnadieu is a 1997 graduate of the University of Arizona College of Law. She has worked with the Pima County Public Defender’s office since 1998 and continues to do so on a part-time basis. Currently, she is enrolled in the Library Science Master’s program at the University of Arizona and has a fellowship with the University of Arizona College of Law Library.


Update to an article previously published on on March 1, 2002



Table of Contents

          I.     A Brief History of the Mexican Legal System

        II.     Federal Government

      III.     Major Primary Federal Legislation

      IV.     Legislation Sources

        V.     Official Mexican Government Websites

      VI.     Political Parties

    VII.     State Governments


      IX.     Overall Coverage of Mexico

        X.     Free Translation Sites


I. A Brief History of the Mexican Legal System

The Mexican legal system has historical roots that go back to 16th century Spanish law and to Pre-Colombian indigenous law. After the Spanish conquered the Aztec Empire, they found an advanced indigenous legal system in place. The Spanish crown did not rid itself of the indigenous legal system completely; instead, it kept those indigenous laws and legal institutions that did not go directly against the Spanish customs or against Church Doctrine. The Spanish Crown also introduced its own laws and legal institutions.


After Mexico finally established independence, it went through a series of different constitutions. The current Mexican Constitution is commonly referred to as the 1917 Constitution. The official name is the Political Constitution of the United Mexican States (Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos). The Federal Constitution is the most important political document in Mexico.


It is the source and origin for all Mexican law. The hierarchy of sources of law in the civil law tradition to which Mexico’s legal system belongs are, “constitution, legislation, regulation, and custom.” The constitution will override all legislation, legislation will override all regulation, and regulation will override all custom.


II. Federal Government

Executive Branch - According to the Mexican Constitution, the executive may initiate only certain types of legislation; however, in practice, the executive branch initiates almost all legislation, especially any legislation on any consequence. This is the branch with the most political power.


President - This is the president’s official website, which is also available in English. The President is elected to a six-year term with no possibility of reelection.


Legislative Branch - The legislative branch of the federal government is comprised of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. Legislative sessions begin on September 1 and must end by December 31; although, a special session may be called by, and only by, the Permanent Committee. The Permanent Committee is composed of 15 deputies and 14 senators, and is elected by their respective chambers at the end of each regular legislative session.


Senate - There are two (2) senators per state. Senators are elected by direct popular vote to a 6-year term. They cannot be reelected for an immediately succeeding term. The Senate may initiate certain legislation.


Chamber of Deputies (Camara de Diputados) - Deputies are elected to a three (3) year term and there is one deputy for every 250,000 people in a state. Three-fourths of the deputies are elected by direct popular vote, with the remaining one-fourth selected in proportion to the votes received by each political party. They also cannot be reelected for an immediately succeeding term.


The Chamber of Deputies is the only branch that may initiate bills concerning loans, taxes, imposts, and the recruitment of troops. However, in practice the executive branch initiates almost all legislation. The official website (in Spanish) for all such legislation is It provides very complete collection of over 230 codes, statutes, laws, regulations and other legal materials. The materials are all in Spanish and are updated on a regular basis. The site lacks a search engine, but the materials can be accessed by name and article number. I highly recommend this site for all Mexican legal research. This site is not for the novice. The site is free.


Judiciary Branch - The federal judiciary is governed by Articles 94 through 107 of the Constitution and the Organic Law of the Federal Judiciary. There are no elected judges in Mexico, they are all appointed.


Supreme Court - The Supreme Court has final appellate jurisdiction over all state and federal courts. It is composed of 11 Justices and one (1) Chief Justice. The justices are nominated by the President and the Senate may approve with a 2/3 majority; however, if the Senate fails to act within 30 days, the appointment becomes automatic. The Justices are appointed with life tenure but they may be removed by the President with the approval of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies.


III. Major Primary Federal Legislation

Constitution- The Constitution calls for a federal democratic republic composed of free and sovereign states. All power is derived from the people. There is a centralized federal government and individual state governments. The Constitution is the source and origin of all Mexican laws. It overrides all legislation and codes/laws. Codes/laws override all regulations, and regulations override any customs.


The Mexican Constitution is based on seven (7) basic principles: a declaration of human rights, national sovereignty, division of powers, the representative system, a federal structure, constitutional remedies, and the supremacy of the state over the church. The Constitution calls for an active government that has a moral obligation to not only promote human and political rights, but also economic, social and cultural rights. The Constitution is seen as an instrument that should bring social change.


The Constitution is divided into nine sequential titles. The titles are subdivided into chapters, which are not sequential. The chapters are further subdivided into articles, which are sequential throughout the Constitution. The Constitution also has transitory articles. All Mexican states have their own state constitution. The Mexican Constitution can be found in English here.


Civil Code (Código Civil para el Distrito Federal en Materia Común y para Todo la Republica en Materia Federal) - The Mexican Civil Code is the most important piece of legislation after the Mexican Constitution. The scope and coverage of the Civil Code is extremely broad. The Civil Code reflects the revolutionary spirit and nationalism of the Mexican Constitution of 1917. In the Civil Code, community interests override individual interests, private property rights are not absolute, the “less able” are protected from the "most able" (unjust enrichment) and agrarian rights are established.


The Civil Code consists of over 3,000 individual articles organized into books, titles, chapters, articles and sections. There are four books in the Code; Book 1, Persons (individuals and corporations), Book 2, Property, Book 3, Succession, Book 4, Obligations. The Code articles are numerically arranged, with each article getting a           unique number. This means that all you need to find a particular provision in the Civil Code is the article number, and not the book number, title number and chapter number. The Mexican States have their own civil codes, most of which are copies or are based on the Federal Civil Code.


The civil code has been translated into English; none could be found on the Internet; one website where it is available in Spanish is here.


Case Law (“Jurisprudenica” and “Tesis Sobresalientes”) - See Supreme Court:


Commercial Code - The Commercial Code has wide application in Mexico. It is federal code because commercial matters fall under federal jurisdiction. Code Commercial code regulates: all commercial activity including contracts, documentary credit, credit institutions, land and water transportation, bankruptcy and arbitration. It also covers procedures for commercial litigation.


The Code is organized into five books. Book 1 covers Merchants, Book 2 covers Overland Commerce, Book 3 has been repealed (it covered maritime commerce), Book 4 covers Bankruptcy, and Book 5 covers Mercantile Actions. The Code is further subdivided into titles, chapters and articles (over 1460 articles). There exists in Mexico further commercial legislation that is not part of the Commercial Code. The Mexican States do not have their own commercial code. There are several versions of the Commercial Code in translations.


Diario Oficial de la Federacion - In Civil Law tradition countries all legal matters/legislation must be published in the “Official Gazette” before it can go into effect. The gazettes, which are legal newspapers, are known as “diarios” or “gacetas” in Mexico, and are published on a daily basis by the government. This is the official source for all new legislation.


The Diario Oficial may be found online for free but the text is in Spanish. These are available in English for a membership fee here.


Your law library may have them depending on their international/foreign law collection. You may also purchase a subscription on line.


IV. Legislation Sources


V. Official Mexican Government Websites


VI. Political Parties


VII. State Governments

Each Mexican State has its own “Diario”. They are also known as “gacetas” and “boletines”.







IX. Overall Coverage of Mexico


X. Free Translation Sites

This site – Babelfish - is pretty decent/better than most other translation sites. I would not recommend FreeTranslation.