There’s an old saying in Brazil that goes: we don’t discuss judicial decisions – we obey them. That is, of course, unless you are Brazil’s Senate President Renan Calheiros. He refused to accept a Supreme Court ruling that suspended him from his office. On Wednesday, Brazil’s Supreme Court itself gave him the right to do so.
In a bizarre decision, justices of Brazil’s highest court came up with a solution to pacify the institutional war between branches of the federal administration. Renan Calheiros can remain as Senate President, but will not enjoy all the position’s prerogatives.
On Monday, Justice Marco Aurélio Mello ruled to suspend Calheiros after he became a defendant in a criminal case. He based his decision on a November trial, in which most of the judges in Brazil’s highest court decided that a man in that situation couldn’t be in the presidential succession line.
The catch? The court never reached a final decision, since one of the justices asked for more time to analyze the matter. That gave room for Wednesday’s unorthodox decision: the Senate President is the third in the succession line – expect if he is Renan Calheiros.
The court’s decision is a way to pacify Brazil’s explosive political situation. Without Calheiros, the federal administration would not be able to approve austerity measures before 2017. That could have a ripple effect on the economy, further increasing Brazil’s long recession.
At the same time, it reinforces public perception that the law is not for everyone. Disobeying a judicial order is a crime – and that’s what the Senate President did. He refused to be served with the decision, lying to Supreme Court’s officials about his whereabouts so they couldn’t find him.
During Wednesday’s trial, roughly all justices expressed outrage with Calheiros’s attitude. The majority, however, let it slide.
Quid Pro Quo?
Immediately after the Supreme Court’s decision in his favor, Renan Calheiros decided to suspend the vote on a bill regarding abuses by members of the justice system. The bill was regarded by judges as a “gag order” because its vague text means that nearly anything can be considered abuse.
It is hard not to see a quid pro quo situation here.
Whatever the case may be, one thing is sure: in this latest episode of Brazil’s political soap opera, all involved institutions are now smaller.