The phrase uttered by President Alberto Fernández triggered comment in the corridors of the fourth floor of the Central Courthouse: “We’re going to make the Internet a public service and those who are going to be annoyed will just have to get annoyed,” he declared. Beyond this statement of intent, it is not the Executive but the Judicial Branch which has the defining word here – the justices still have to rule in the case of ’Enacom versus Telecom,’ regarding the government’s August 2020 decree.
Whether the government’s move comes into force or not is up to the justices. Though this is not the only reason why politicians are keeping a close eye on the Judiciary. The Supreme Court justices are sitting on some high voltage cases – it would only take three signatures, for example, to complicate two former presidents judicially: Mauricio Macri judicially in the Correo Argentino post office case or Cristina Fernández de Kirchner over her hotels and alleged corrupt practices. Three signatures could leave deep wounds in an electoral year.
Amid this external display of power, the top tribunal must also crucially sort out its own internal configuration – on October 1, Carlos Rosenkrantz’s term as chief justice will expire and tensions over his succession are starting to become apparent in the Central Courthouse.
Between the PASO primaries and the November midterms, another important election falls due. And although it will be the members of the nation’s highest tribunal themselves who will decide their new chief justice, the government will also play its cards.
The problem is that, for the first time, the Casa Rosada mistrusts all the justices. Thus a favourite emerges by default – Ricardo Lorenzetti, chief justice for over a decade and the only Supreme Court member in contact with the Fernández administration. Despite the strong criticisms of Fernández de Kirchner, he would be the one to receive the government’s blessing.
The Justice Ministry is careful with its definitions. Sources assure that they have begun to talk about a succession to Rosenkrantz although everything has been complicated by the vehemence of Justice Minister Martín Soria, who never sought an audience with the top tribunal – on the contrary, he never tires of reprehending them in public.
Soria’s statements provoke annoyance in the Central Courthouse: “The only thing he has achieved as minister is to increase his followers on Twitter,” says one judicial employee with a chuckle.
Showing his stance, Soria blasted Rosenkrantz a month ago: “It’s proven that the Chief Justice made over 80 telephone calls to one of the ringleaders of Macri’s judicial panel," he said in reference to Fabián “Pepín" Rodríguez Simón, the alleged judicial operator for the Mauricio Macri administration who fled as a fugitive to Uruguay.
Rosenkrantz is not the only government punching-bag. Horacio Rosatti is mistrusted all round – he earned Kirchnerite hatred by walking out of the Justice Ministry during the Néstor Kirchner presidency and then being nominated by Macri.
Not even Elena Highton de Nolcasco has conserved her initial relationship, after being the only justice to accompany the presentation of the judicial reform. Since then, her signatures have started placing distance between her and the administration.
“She voted against in the cases of [Amado] Boudou and Milagro Sala, rejecting challenges by [Julio] De Vido, [Ricardo] Jaime and [José] López,” said one source. The final drive was to request her to pension herself off along with a legal claim filed in June over her relationship with the Macri government.
In any case Highton de Nolasco and Juan Carlos Maqueda constitute the passive sector of Supreme Court power plays. At this stage of their careers, neither has any intention of heading the Court.
By default, the Casa Rosada sees in Lorenzetti a possibility of changing its strategy for what lies ahead – its regular confrontation with Rosenkrantz is rhetorically useful but produces many headaches. In what remains of the term ahead, they can at least count on the former chief justice to guarantee dialogue.
Those close to Lorenzetti downplay the government’s intentions, assuring: “He talks a lot with them but also with the opposition. That does not place him anywhere. Even today, this issue is not on our agenda.”
Lorenzetti headed the Supreme Court reflecting a highly presidential government. Today it is collegiate – all the decisions, including the administrative, are made by majority vote.
“Each [justice] has 20 percent of the authority,” the sources indicate, explaining: “The only difference remaining is the institutional communication.”
Nevertheless, the dialogue between Rosenkrantz and the government has been cut, turning Lorenzetti into an informal interlocutor with the administration in sensitive issues for the Judiciary.
The Supreme Court will decide who will be its new chief justice in the last few weeks of September.
“For now, the issue worries the politicians more than us,” they say inside the top tribunal. None of them command the government’s confidence. But manifest enmity has taken the latter down the wrong road – now it seeks a return to dialogue, to the lesser evil.