Kirchnerism and the Argentine Supreme Court declare war | International
The blood finally reached the river. The years of buried disputes between Kirchnerism and the Judiciary in Argentina crystallized this week in an open war. The battle is for control of the Judicial Council, a collegiate body that selects, controls and prosecutes federal judges. The star protagonists are the vice president, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and the head of the Supreme Court, Horacio Rosatti. The president, Alberto Fernández, gives his opinion from a distance, while the political forces fight in the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. There is only one coincidence: the sides accuse each other of perpetrating an “institutional coup.”
To understand the soap opera, we must go back to 1994, when the Constitution was reformed. Until then, the incumbent President handpicked the judges and sent the names to the Senate for approval. The democratic spirit of the constitutional reform believed it convenient to transfer that right of selection to a 19-member body made up of magistrates, lawyers, deputies, senators and academics. Thus was born the Council of the Judiciary, chaired by the president of the Supreme Court as advisor number 20 and tiebreaker power.
In 2006, Senator Cristina Kirchner promoted a law that changed the composition of the Council. The number of members was reduced to 13 and the President of the Court was expelled from the direction of it. The reform meant an increase in the internal power of deputies and senators, who now outnumbered (six) the sum of judges and lawyers (five). Politics had won over justice. The Bar Association of the City of Buenos Aires challenged Kirchner’s law on the grounds that it broke the balance of representation required by the 1994 Constitution. Last December, 13 years after receiving the file, the judges of the highest court of the The country agreed with the lawyers and declared the 2006 Kirchner law unconstitutional.
“It’s an institutional coup,” Kirchnerism shouted in chorus. And so we come to the current crisis. The Court gave Congress 120 days to approve by law the formation of a new model for the Judicial Council. If the deadline is not met, it would return to that of 1994. That is what happened. Congress did not agree, the President of the Court, Horacio Rosatti, was put in charge of the Council of the Judiciary, and the number of advisers rose from 13 to 19. Judges, lawyers, deputies and senators had to elect representatives to cover the new seats.
Judges and lawyers did their thing, without too many conflicts. The real fight was fought in Congress. The 1994 law establishes that the four councilors of the Senate and the four of the Deputies are distributed at the rate of two for the first minority, one for the second and one for the third of each Chamber. Let’s limit ourselves to the Senate. The ruling Frente de Todos is the first minority, the opposition Radical Civic Union (UCR) is the second and the PRO of former president Mauricio Macri is the third. What happened then? In a chess move, Cristina Kirchner ordered the division of the Frente de Todos bloc on Tuesday night. The two new parliamentary groups, which respond to the same leadership, became the first minority and the third, thus swiping a representative from the PRO, which came in fourth place. “Lady’s Gambit”, headlined the official newspaper Page 12celebrating the maneuver of the vice president.
But the opposition had less epic readings. “It’s an institutional coup,” they shouted in chorus. “We are going to resort to Justice until the last consequences. What they are doing is an uprising, they don’t give a damn about the institutions”, complained the president of the opposition in Deputies, the radical Mario Negri. Former President Macri said, meanwhile, that “for Kirchnerism, the division of powers is a poison.” The opposition now refuses to accept the councilors chosen by the ruling party. “Surely this ends with a judicial decision. This is a huge institutional setback and it has to be resolved properly,” said Ricardo Gil Lavedra, one of the judges who in 1985 judged the leaders of the dictatorship. “It is a shame that we are witnessing a dispute over who stays or not with the Judicial Council,” he added.
Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.
The movie is far from over. Even if Kirchner’s “queen’s gambit” succeeds, its practical effects may be irrelevant. It happens that the Council of the Judiciary, which was thought of as a democratic and balanced entity, fell into the trap of a technical tie.
The parity of forces has condemned the Council to paralysis, without the possibility of reaching the majorities necessary to resolve. Today 30% of the positions of federal judges are vacant and 222 cases for poor performance against federal magistrates and chamberlains await in a drawer. With the new composition, 12 votes are needed to meet, and neither the ruling party nor the opposition have their own quorum. The Judicial Council will continue to be paralyzed, as was the case before the Court’s ruling last December. Meanwhile, politicians wage the underlying battle: the control of Justice.
Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS América newsletter and receive all the key information on current affairs in the region.