Opinion, by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In 1937, when the Supreme Court of the United States was refusing to find constitutional many of his New Deal programs, President Roosevelt (“FDR”) threatened to appoint more justices to SCOTUS, in effect “packing” the court with justices in line with his politics. It didn’t happen.
Before the “mensalão” case was to be heard by the Brazilian Supreme Court (“STF”), commentators voiced some worry that President Lula might have already packed the court with justices who were in line with his politics.
Of the eleven Justices currently on the STF, no fewer than eight were appointed by Lula and his handpicked successor Dilma.
Lula has publicly stated that he doesn’t believe there was any such thing as the “mensalão”, that it’s a fiction invented by enemies of PT, his political party.
Since the scandal came to light in 2005, it was feared that any potential appointee who dared think that the “mensalão” existed would not be appointed. That fear was shared by those who thought Dilma Rousseff was no more than Lula’s placeholder.
It didn’t happen. The “packing” theory went out the window early, as Reporting Justice Joaquim Barbosa, appointed by Lula, became an ardent supporter of the Prosecutor General’s case. Ironically, the Prosecutor General had been appointed by Lula.
One of Lula’s appointees, Justice Lewandowski, tried to revert the trend with his opinion, which supported the defendants’ claims that there was no proof that PT politicians did anything wrong. For example, they argued that João Paulo, the PT pol who was the President of the Chamber of Deputies, would never have sent his wife out as a bagwoman to collect R$50K if he thought he was doing something wrong.
Justice Carmen Lúcia, a Lula appointee, shot that down with one squeeze of the trigger: João Paulo only sent his wife, said she (Carmen Lúcia) because he was sure he would never be caught and punished. Kapow!
In the end, the vote was 9 – 2 against João Paulo; Lewandowski was joined only by Dias Toffoli, a lifelong PT lawyer whose prime qualification for the STF was that he’s been very good at convincing judges that PT pols never do anything blameworthy.
In the end, four of Lula’s appointees and both of Dilma’s voted to convict a crooked PT politician of corruption, embezzlement of public funds and money laundering, all of which are felonies carrying jail terms. Lula, perhaps predictably, has voiced his disappointment over the “ungrateful” performance of several of his appointees, notably Joaquim Barbosa and Carmen Lúcia.
After casting his vote, one of the justices (Cezar Peluzo) turned 70 years old and had to retire, so there are now only ten justices to vote on the remaining charges. Some fear for a deadlocked STF, and wonder what Presiding Justice Ayres Brito will do in that case.
The Curmudgeon, having seen that the Lula appointees are, for the most part, justices in the best sense of the word (meaning judges who wish to do justice) does not fear this scenario.
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 35 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)