Sunday
September 24, 2017
Friday, May 19, 2017

No last word

Even if President Mauricio Macri’s popularity has not emerged unscathed from the nationwide backlash against the Supreme Court’s misconceived “2x1” ruling to ease the punishment of crimes against humanity, the tribunal has borne the main brunt of the public outrage over the opinion signed by three of its justices — with the damage to the credibility of justice yet to be fully measured. This damage is not limited to a ruling so much at odds with public opinion — the previous finality of judicial verdicts (whether right or wrong) now stands in jeopardy with the Supreme Court talking of going back to the drawing-board in order to produce a unanimous opinion tying up all the loose ends, including its own minority, the limitations imposed by Congress in reaction to the public outcry and the grass-roots criticism. But this finality is not only threatened by the Supreme Court double-take — the day after the massive march against the “2x1” ruling, a key Brazilian whistle-blower from the Odebrecht scandal testified via teleconference that AFI intelligence chief Gustavo Arribas had collected even more bribes than indicated in the original press reports. Yet Arribas was acquitted by Federal Judge Rodolfo Canicoba Corral six weeks ago — even if that acquittal was appealed, where does that leave the finality of justice?

The credibility of justice has fallen rightly into the forefront since the Supreme Court originated this crisis but all three branches of government have suffered discredit. Macri himself stayed silent on the issue for a full week and while his government’s corrective action began well beforehand, it fell short of clearly repudiating state terrorism over all other crimes by adopting the line of a blanket rejection of “2x1” (which was two days off the final sentence for every day of pre-trial detention exceeding two years) — this ambiguous strategy failed to banish suspicions of having promoted the original ruling. Congress emerges in a better light but its rapid reactions to popular pressure were institutionally confusing — more typical of direct than parliamentary democracy in passing its bill to limit the scope of the ruling through both Houses in less than 24 hours while skipping any committee stage. Supreme Courts worldwide interpret legislation but last week Congress took it upon itself to interpret justice and legislate retroactively.

Yet it is the judicial branch supposedly with the last word over the other two branches which has fallen into the deepest disrepute. Judicial reform was given a bad name by the Kirchnerite drive of 2013 more interested in expanding executive power than genuinely improving the judiciary but the Supreme Court has now dug such a deep hole for itself that a long overdue modernisation might have to come, whether the government likes it or not.

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