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Judicial Retirement Amendment Tips Balance of Power

Judicial Retirement Amendment Tips Balance of Power

The nature of any democracy is a balance of powers between the branches of government. But a new amendment raising the age of mandatory judicial retirement is tipping that balance away from President Dilma Rousseff and toward the Supreme Federal Court’s 11 ministers.

Brazil’s Congress recently voted to raise the mandatory retirement age of Supreme Court ministers from 70 to 75. The amendment also raises the mandatory retirement age for ministers in two other federal courts. The higher retirement age effectively means that President Rousseff cannot replace five ministers who will all reach the age of 70 during her second term.

The ability to name new ministers to the high court could have given President Rousseff a powerful political edge. She could have essentially packed the court with ministers aligned with her political vision and that of her progressive PT party. President Rousseff currently faces considerable economic and political challenges, and her administration must also contend with the continuing legal investigation into alleged corruption at state-run oil company Petrobras.

The current Supreme Court is already having an impact on the Petrobras investigation. The court recently ordered that an engineering executive, Dario de Queiroz Galvão Filho, be released from jail, which could hamper the ongoing prosecution efforts, the Buenos Aires Herald reports.

For her part, President Rousseff herself has not been implicated in the scandal and insists that she knew nothing about the alleged kickbacks. “None of us even saw a sign,” Rousseff told Bloomberg News. “Everything points to a cartel and the corruption of some employees.”

It is still unclear what President Rousseff knew. If the policies or the conduct of the Rousseff administration become legal matters before the Supreme Court, a court comprised of ministers named by Rousseff would be more likely to view and rule on those cases in her favor.

Notwithstanding the amendment, President Rousseff was able to exercise one new judicial nomination. Last month the Senate accepted her nomination of Luiz Edson Fachin to succeed the retired Joaquim Barbosa. But the amendment raising the mandatory judicial retirement age means that the nomination is likely her last.