The Supreme Court is entering a new era after Carlos Rosenkrantz was picked as the tribunal’s chief justice, ending 11 years of Ricardo Lorenzetti’s leadership.
The direction of this new stage remains unknown, but predictions from experts range from the end of the highest court’s political nature, to a tribunal painted in yellow, providing a predictable and reliable ally for the Pink House.
Sources say Lorenzetti was shocked on Tuesday when Rosenkrantz asked him to discuss the election of new authorities for the nation’s highest court. Lorenzetti’s term of office was due to expire on December 31 and, although the current chief justice wanted to discuss the matter in the future, he did not imagine that three of his colleagues had already agreed on a proposal – one that did not include him at the helm of the Supreme Court.
It seems the two justices who had been named to the court by President Mauricio Macri, Rosenkrantz and Horacio Rosatti, had managed to win the decisive vote of Elena Highton de Nolasco, the justice who has officiated as the court’s secondin-command for the last decade and was – like Lorenzetti – appointed during the government of Néstor Kirchner.
Sources close to Lorenzetti saw two people behind the manoeuvres that ended his reign: national deputy Elisa Carrió and judicial operator and lawyer Fabián ‘Pepín’ Rodríguez Simón. Carrió, the leader of the Civic Coalition, has not been shy about indicating her fierce opposition to the former chief justice previously. She even tweeted after the news broke this week, thanking Highton de Nolasco for her vote.
And so Highton de Nolasco became a kingmaker, despite some court sources seeing her as being in a weakened position: she is over 75, past the age of retirement, having obtained the government’s green light to stay on.
Rosenkrantz, Rosatti and Highton have some history of voting together. The first time, famously, was on May 3, 2017, when the Supreme Court issued a controversial ruling extending the so-called ‘two for one’ benefit to dictatorship-era criminals convicted of crimes against humanity.
In recent days, some have indicated that the court’s current make-up, with a potential 3-2 majority block in place, was stimulated by the Cambiemos government. However, experts consulted by the Times consider that the trio are unlikely to offer a stable or automatic majority, as often happened during the era of Carlos Menem.
THE NEW MAN
Lorenzetti was not part of the Judiciary when he was picked to become a member of the country’s top tribunal. He was a lawyer from Santa Fe province who had impressed then-senator Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, with whom he had an upand-down relationship during her time as president (2008- 2015). Like his predecessor, Rosenkrantz can probably been seen another outsider to the judicial family. But, unlike Lorenzetti, he represents the arrival of large law firms and corporations to the helm of the Supreme Court. Grupo Clarín, Cablevisión, Pegasus (Farmacity), La Nación, América TV, Rural Society (SRA) are some of the clients he has represented through the firm he owns with Gabriel Bouzat.
With a solid academic background, he served the chancellor of the University of San Andrés before being appointed to the court. In the 1980s he was a disciple of Carlos Santiago Nino, who was then-president Raúl Alfonsín’s top advisor on transitional justice. Rosenkrant, the son of a Jewish immigrant from Poland and of a Catholic teacher from Corrientes province, is also the first jurist of Jewish origin to be designated to the country’s highest tribunal.
Rosenkrantz is seen by many as the mastermind behind the ‘two-for-one’ ruling that opened a door to early release for those who committed crimes against humanity. In addition, as the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo recalled in a statement this week, Rosenkrantz was involved with the so-called ‘Fontevecchia’ ruling, which ignored the capacity of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to review decisions of the country’s highest court. That decision was supported by Highton de Nolasco and Lorenzetti.
“Rosenkrantz’s mark of origin is that he agreed to be appointed as an acting justice,” Andrés Gil Domínguez, a respected constitutional experts, told the Times, recalling how Macri attempted in 2015 to appoint Rosenkrantz and Rosatti by decree, skipping the Senate.
A NEW ERA
For Gil Dominguez, every time a chief justice is elected to lead the Supreme Court, a new era begins. Lorenzetti’s era was extensive and lengthy: he has commanded it since 2006.
Gustavo Arballo, a law professor at the University of La Pampa, said the leadership of the Supreme Court fits both the times and the profile of the chief justices. “The chief justice is more a primus inter pares than a chief of his colleagues,” he explained to the Times. “The chief justice has some influence that certainly gives him special administrative and symbolic powers, but power depends on his legitimacy as a representative of the body and on society’s perception of the court.”
“I hope this court is not painted yellow,” said Jorge Rizzo, for his part, said in conversation with the Times. Rizzo is not only the leader of the Public Bar Association in Buenos Aires City and the group Gente de Derecho – which has forged alliances with Macri’s PRO in the past – but also Lorenzetti’s lawyer, who even once acted as his spokesman.
For Rizzo, the government has sought predictability with the changes, because the tribunal has some hot cases coming up, such as social security lawsuits. If the court decides to move forward with those cases, they could deal big blows to the Macri administration, at a time of economic instability.
For some, Rosenkrantz may represent the face of austerity in the courts. Julio Piumato, the leader of the judicial employees’ union, said he will wait for the new chief justice to take office on October 1 and talk about salaries again, as he had done with him and Rosatti when they were sworn in to the Court in 2016.
“During his era, Lorenzetti defended the independence of the Judiciary, not only now but also during the previous government. It is worrying that some government figures celebrated shamelessly, which leads us to think that this new court will be in line with the government’s needs,” Piumato said.
And what next for Lorenzetti, whose relationship with Macri has been described by some as “torturous”? He still holds his bench and should continue to hold great sway over lower courts and the wider judicial family. “Without the institutional obligations of a chief justice, Lorenzetti is freer and more dangerous now,” said Rizzo.