In a much-awaited ruling the Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously decided to accept the per saltum appeals of three judges against the Senate vote transferring them from their current federal appeals court benches.
Even if this decision only meant that they would consider the appeal rather than automatically the Senate vote, the ruling was seen as a judicial and political setback for President Alberto Fernández and especially his Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, widely seen as the main force behind the drive to dislodge judges Pablo Bertuzzi, Leopoldo Bruglia and Germán Castelli, all involved in the definition of corruption trials against her.
The biggest surprise for the government was the unanimity since it had been counting on a lack of consensus among the Supreme Court justices frustrating the per saltum.
Justice Secretary Juan Martín Mena, an official identified with the vice-president more than the president, criticised the ruling as yielding to media and opposition pressures. Senate Legal Affairs director Graciana Peñafort accused the Senate of being “aligned with the establishment.”
But the opposition celebrated the ruling as “a breath of fresh air” (in the words of Senate Minority Leader Luis Naidenoff) halting the advance of the government.
Castelli reacted to the favourable ruling by saying: “The Court understood the institutional gravity of the case and that principles of the republican system were at stake” while other jurists hailed the judicial branch regaining control over the judiciary.
The Supreme Court ordered the Magistrates Council to refrain from replacing the judges until the underlying issue has been defined, rejecting the “reasons of urgency” presented to justify the rapid Senate vote transferring the judges from their politically sensitive benches.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Carlos Rosenkrantz described that Senate vote retroactively altering judicial appointments as “of unusual institutional gravity” although the other justices did not accompany him on that point.
Given that Bertuzzi and Bruglia are now in limbo between ejection and confirmation, this ruling leaves the Federal Appeals Court functioning with only two judges.
The ruling potentially extends beyond the trio presenting the per saltum to some 56 magistrates transferred to other benches by presidential decree since 1992.
The events arrive in a week of high tensions, after anti-government protesters staged a noisy motorcade in the town of Rafaela, Santa Fe Province, near the home of Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti. The demonstration was condemned by politicians across the board, including Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, a prominent member of the centre-right coalition, who said that staging protests at the private home of another person is out of bounds.