Far-right Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro loves to compare himself to U.S. President Donald Trump, even copying many traits of the American celebrity-turned-president’s demeanor. As a new vacancy has just opened up in the U.S. Supreme Court, Mr. Trump now has the opportunity of naming his second Justice in just 18 months in office – a decision that will likely shape the court’s ideological profile for the next generation.
Mr. Bolsonaro also wants to shape the Brazilian Supreme Court – although not exactly by the same means Donald Trump will be able to do.He intends to double the number of Supreme Court Justices from 11 to 21.
According to many legal experts, the move would only be possible in two situations: either Mr. Bolsonaro would, as president, call for the elaboration of a new Constitution, or propose an amendment to the one we have now. In either case, however, the Supreme Court would likely find the move to be unlawful. “Such an amendment would be a violation of one of the core points of the Constitution, the one establishing the separation of powers, and therefore, Judicial independence,” says Ivar Hartmann, a law professor at think tank Fundação Getulio Vargas.
Mr. Bolsonaro’s list of favorites for a Supreme Court seat is headed by Federal Judge Sérgio Moro, the man who has conducted most of the cases related to Operation Car Wash. Mr. Moro has gathered a kind of celebrity status – especially among sectors of the middle-class – after ordering the arrest of billionaires and politicians, including former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s most polarizing political figure.
Trying to tame the rule of law is a common thing among authoritarian politicians. Former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez pulled a similar stunt back in 2004, when he raised the number of justices from 20 to 32 – making sure he would maintain a tight grip over the court.
The frontrunner in Brazil’s presidential race, though, rejects any comparison with the late Venezuelan president.
Jair Bolsonaro calls himself one of Brazil’s harshest critics of “communism.” A fact-checking agency cites that, between 2009 and 2016, the congressman cited the c-word at least 26 times in his House speeches – never in a flattering way. In one of these interventions, he went as far as asking for one of the websites administered by the House to be shut down, as it “explained principles of communism.” Mr. Bolsonaro, according to himself, wanted to prevent young people from thinking that communism – or socialism, for that matter – would ever be positive for society.
In May last year, Mr. Bolsonaro recorded a video making fun of the fact that Mr. Chávez sought Cuban doctors to treat his colon cancer – dying shortly after. In the recording, Mr. Bolsonaro also asks the late leader to “prepare to host Brazil’s communist leaders in hell.”
In 1999, though, Mr. Bolsonaro declared that Mr. Chávez’s election for president spelled “hope for Latin America.” When recently confronted with that old quote, Mr. Bolsonaro dismissed it, in true Trump style: “People change.”