We’ve already seen how the foxes are often in charge of the henhouse in Brazil’s Congress, with soy farmers running the environmental commission, convicted corruptors sitting in the justice commission and an evangelical pastor accused of racism heading the human rights commission.
But now it appears the foxes are not only running the place but would like to pull down the wire fences safeguarding the integrity of the Brazilian constitution of 1988.
The justice commission in Congress has proposed a constitutional amendment by which certain rulings from the Supreme Court would have to meet with the approval of the house – a direct attack on the principle of the separation of powers on which rests the Brazilian democratic state.
Before we go any further, it may not surprise readers to find out who is on this commission: José Genoíno, the senior ruling Workers’ Party official and his petista (Workers’ Party) comrade João Paulo Cunha, both of whom were condemned last year to jail for corruption in a landmark Supreme Court case, the mensalão scandal. The men were found guilty of vote-buying in Congress in a country in which the elite have traditionally gotten away with such things. They are still appealing their convictions.
The justice commission’s proposal to amend the constitution would cover various Supreme Court judgments relating to the constitution and decisions that are binding on lower courts.
Legal experts do not expect the amendment to be passed, at least in this form, but say it is part of a growing turf war between Brazil’s Supreme Court and Congress not only over the mensalão scandal, but over a range of issues.
The author of the amendment, PT legislator Nazareno Fonteles, said the Supreme Court was increasingly moving beyond its remit, recently interfering for instance by rejecting part of a bill on the distribution of oil royalties between Brazil’s states and municipalities. He said this could cause “losses to thousands of Brazilian municipalities”.
He denied the amendment was related to any specific recent issue, pointing out that it was first proposed in 2011.
Such to and fro between the Supreme Court and Congress is part of any democracy. But the sinister aspect of this amendment is the suspicion that Congress is trying to punish the court somehow for daring to act against politicians. At the minimum, Genoíno and Cunha should have abstained from participating in any debate on the issue.
In the court of public opinion at least, Brazil’s politicians are onto another loser.