Argentine president Cristina Fernandez and her followers might be having a rough time in the current round of local elections and primaries leading to the presidential vote next October, but her infighting skills remain intact: on her ongoing battle with the Judiciary branch she managed to put in check the Supreme Court.
In effect Supreme Court president Ricardo Lorenzetti will not take up a new term as head of the Judiciary, with the chief judge arguing that he is morally exhausted shortly after being re-elected by his peers.
Court sources said Lorenzetti passed on his decision on Monday to fellow Supreme Court members Juan Carlos Maqueda and Elena Highton de Nolasco in an informal meeting. A final decision from the magistrate is now expected on May 12, when the Court holds an agreement meeting.
Lorenzetti's current mandate in the presidency of Argentina's highest judicial authority finishes in December this year. On April 22, however, the Supreme Court moved forward elections, and the judge was voted unanimously by the three other members - Maqueda, Highton de Nolasco and Carlos Fayt - to continue in the seat for 2016.
That decision attracted criticism from some areas, with former Supreme Court justice Eugenio Zaffaroni and Cabinet Chief Anibal Fernández among those who were against another re-election for the magistrate.
Anibal Fernández said that with the top court’s current composition, three justices must work on 4,800 cases each, sarcastically leaving out acting justice Carlos Fayt, who has turned 97 this year. The government of Cristina Fernandez has emphatically criticized his permanence at the Supreme Court due to his age.
“Cases end up being analyzed by technicians of the court who haven’t been voted by anybody,” Fernandez complained weeks after the Court declared null and void a list the ruling Victory Front (FpV) passed in the Senate appointing substitute justices for the country’s top tribunal.
Anibal Fernandez defended the government-fueled initiative saying substitute judges had to intervene only four times in the last 80 years, and again refuted the Supreme Court’s criteria which said the Senate needs two thirds of the votes to designate substitute judges to act in cases against the top tribunal.
A former Supreme Court Justice Raúl Zaffaroni also criticized the re-election of serving Chief Justice Lorenzetti, following his own retirement from Argentina's top tribunal last year.
“It would not have been my decision, but there you go,” Zaffaroni was quoted in the media. Zaffaroni reiterated his long-standing criticism of the current structure of the Supreme Court, and in the context of his own preferences, said that it would be better “if the Chief Justice rotated year by year, for example as in Brazil and many Argentine provinces.”
Following Zaffaroni’s resignation at the age of 75 from the Supreme Court last year, the Cristina Fernández administration lobbied for the appointment of Roberto Carlés as a replacement, but avoided submitting the proposal to the Senate for approval following strong signals the bill faced defeat.
Since Zaffaroni resigned in December, the Court has operated with just four justices. The government had then considered a proposal to expand the number of sitting justices on the Court from five to nine, a move sponsored by Zaffaroni.
“I do not like a five-justices court,” he said. “It allows for an enormous concentration of power. Five is too few to reflect the pluralism the (Supreme) Court requires”.
Lorenzetti was also on the Cristina Fernandez hate list for publicly stating that judges must remain loyal to 'independence' and though they have ideas 'like any person' they can't take part in partisan activities. This is essential to create confidence in the Judiciary among the population.
The statement was directed to an organization Justicia Legitima which brings together judges and prosecutors supporting the Cristina Fernandez administration.
“When we assume the public office, we must know that there are pressures coming from everywhere. In every trial, there are pressures from the parties involved, more over if someone has power. But that can not affect us as judges. If the President (Cristina Fernández) says something, let her say it. What cannot happen is those opinions affecting us. If a judge feels pressured, he must withdraw from office,” Lorenzetti said
“The Court must be independent from the political power. It is always called the Court of (Raúl) Alfonsín, of (Carlos) Menem, of (Néstor) Kirchner. We must end that,” he insisted and rejected a government-sponsored project that aimed at electing judges by the popular vote.
“Imagine if judges were elected by the vote, they should campaign. To make a campaign, they have to get funds. Where would they take them from? From the State or companies. How could they rule with independence? It would be very dangerous if judges were elected (that way). Judges are to put limits to other branches of the State and also to the business sector. Judges don’t govern but put limits to the ruling government.”
Lorenzetti also insisted crime, drug-trafficking and impunity were “worrying scourges that must be addressed by state policies”.