The government confirmed Tuesday that Supreme Court Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco has resigned her post, with the 78-year-old set to step down at the start of next month.
The news comes just over a week after Horacio Rosatti was elected as the court’s next chief justice, replacing Carlos Rosenkrantz. This latest development will extend the era of uncertainty for Argentina’s highest tribunal.
Highton de Nolasco’s decision was confirmed in a letter to President Alberto Fernández dated September 30, a copy of which was published by the Centro de Información Judicial (CIJ).
According to sources cited by Perfil, she spoke with the Peronist leader beforehand to inform him of her decision, though the news still came as a surprise.
"I am pleased to address the President of the Republic, with the purpose of presenting my resignation as Justice of the Supreme Court of the Nation, effective November 1 this year," wrote the justice in a short six-line message.
Highton de Nolasco, a lawyer since 1966, took a seat on the Supreme Court in 2004. The first woman to join the court since the return of democracy and to serve as the court’s vice-president, she lost the position in last month’s vote that saw Rossatti installed as chief justice.
Highton de Nolasco was nominated for a Supreme Court bench by former president Néstor Kirchner, successfully winning the endorsement of the Senate by 51 votes to 5. At the time, Fernández, Argentina’s current president, served as Cabinet chief.
Speaking at the time, he described Highton de Nolasco as an “outstanding judge” with “a very important judicial career with more than 30 books published on civil rights and mediation as an element of conflict resolution.”
Highton de Nolasco’s resignation creates a new vacancy on the nation’s highest tribunal in the middle of a challenging election year for the government. President Fernández will now have to propose a replacement, which will need the support of two-thirds of the upper house and therefore, at least some of the opposition.
The outgoing justice , who gave no reason for her resignation, has generally kept a low profile while serving as a justice. She made headlines in 2016 when, after surpassing the retirement age of 75, she successfully won a legal challenge allowing her to continue in her post. Then-president Mauricio Macri had earlier raised doubts over her continuation in the position.
A key figure in the creation of the Oficina de Violencia Doméstica, Highton de Nolasco pushed for special attention to be granted to cases involving gender violence and is seen by seasoned court-watchers as perhaps the judge most in tune with President Fernández, a fellow lawyer. Highton de Nolasco, for example, was the only member of the nation’s highest tribunal to attend an event launching the government’s judicial reform bill in 2019.
Last year, she abstained from a controversial ruling that granted the Buenos Aires City government the right to continue in-person classes at schools during the coronavirus pandemic, in line with her previous positions regarding the autonomy of the federal capital.