“Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead,” is one of the better-known quotations from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (enough to be the title of an existentialist play half a century ago) – well, maybe Guildenstern but Rosencrantz is not only alive and well and living in Argentina but the new Supreme Court chief justice as from next month. Is this a good news flash for President Mauricio Macri amid “the five worst months of my life” according to a recent speech, given that Carlos Rosencrantz’s Radical origins and extensive experience in corporate law make him by far the most congenial of the five justices in government eyes? Perhaps, but even if there is no particular evidence of Macri having forced the issue (despite his ally Elisa Carrió’s vehement campaign against outgoing president of the court, Ricardo Lorenzetti), the emergence of the friendliest face at the helm of the judicial branch is hardly the best way of convincing the outside world as to the independence of Argentine justice.
If not a government imposition, where did the change originate? The answer to that question perhaps lies with Lorenzetti. There are at least two possible theories here. One is that by calling the vote three months early Lorenzetti was repeating his trick of 2015 (when he brought ahead his re-election by eight months because, foreseeing a possible change of government after having headed the court throughout both Cristina Fernández de Kirchner terms, he preferred to extend his stay while everybody was distracted with the election campaign) and this time it simply did not come off, losing Tuesday’s 4-1 vote.
But the body language of that day’s photo – the contrast between a beaming Lorenzetti and the solemn, almost “deer in the headlights” expression on Rosencrantz’s face – tells a different story. Just as Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was the president of the good news and the free goodies, while Macri is now doing the dirty work, might not Lorenzetti be congratulating himself rather than his successor that having presided over 11 years of a Judiciary working at a snail’s pace on munificent salaries, he is now handing over a very different world – Rosencrantz must now reconcile his judges to such grim prospects as paying taxes for the first time, lower pensions and facing intense pressures in the numerous corruption trials from both public opinion and corporate cover-ups.
And what might we expect from the new chief justice from his time in the Supreme Court so far? His track record there is short (confirmed only 25 months ago) but hardly sweet – tainted by the original sin of having accepted the constitutionally outrageous and ultimately unsuccessful entry route of Executive decree over Senate approval. Less than a year on the bench and Rosencrantz was already flouting human rights as well as the Constitution – in May last year he was one of three justices extending the socalled ‘2x 1’ ruling (two days off the final sentence for every day of pre-trial detention beyond two years) to crimes against humanity, which sparked such outrage that it led to the rare sight of a unanimous Congress vote to quash the decision with record speed, even ahead of one of the most massive demonstrations ever seen in Argentina and the Supreme Court backtracking. We could add to this list of dubious rulings backed by Rosenkrantz (along with some sound enough decisions) but suffice it to say for now that the current ‘notebooks’ graft scandal leaves him potentially vulnerable, given his long list of corporate clients.
None of the above should be ignored, but nor should it prevent us either from extending the benefit of the doubt to Carlos Rosencrantz and wishing him all the best in his new responsibility. The most basic principle of justice also applies to the future head of the judicial branch – innocent until proven guilty.