Bolsonaro investigation is another case of politics being taken to court

. Apr 29, 2020
Supreme Court. Photo: Fellip Agner/Shutterstock Supreme Court. Photo: Fellip Agner/Shutterstock

The resignation of Justice Minister Sergio Moro last week may result in more than just a political headache for President Jair Bolsonaro. Declarations made by the outgoing Mr. Moro have led the Supreme Court to authorize a criminal investigation into the sitting president.

Once seen as a hero by Mr. Bolsonaro’s supporters, Sergio Moro resigned on Friday claiming that the president had meddled in the functioning of the Federal Police. He alleged that Mr. Bolsonaro intended to fire the then-head of federal law enforcement Marcelo Valeixo, replacing him with someone “he could call, that could give him information on investigation reports.”

Mr. Moro’s complaints were

quickly taken to the Supreme Court by Prosecutor General Augusto Aras, with veteran justice Celso de Mello <a href="">placing Jair Bolsonaro under formal investigation</a>. Among the crimes cited by Mr. Aras were <a href="">passive corruption, malfeasance, and misrepresentation on a public document</a>.</p> <p>And on Wednesday morning, Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes moved to suspend President Bolsonaro&#8217;s appointment of Alexandre Ramagem as the new Federal Police Chief. Mr. Ramagem is a close friend of the Bolsonaro family, and Justice Moraes based his decision on Sergio Moro&#8217;s accusations of political interference.</p> <div id="buzzsprout-player-3553348"></div> <script src=";player=small" type="text/javascript" charset="utf-8"></script> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <h2>Taking politics to court</h2> <p>This battle between President Bolsonaro and the Supreme Court is part of a much longer process of judicializing Brazilian politics. Among the most prominent examples over the last 15 years are the <a href="">Operation Car Wash</a> graft probe and the <a href=""><em>mensalão</em></a> vote-buying scandal, both of which ended up in the Supreme Court due to the involvement of high-ranking politicians.</p> <p>Brazilian law states that cases involving federal lawmakers and the Executive may only be trialed by the Supreme Court, in what is known as &#8220;<a href="">jurisdictional prerogative</a>.&#8221;</p> <p>In addition to major corruption investigations involving federal officials, the Supreme Court has also received a growing number of cases questioning political decisions. <strong>The Brazilian Report </strong>consulted the court&#8217;s archives and found that the number of these lawsuits increase on a yearly basis.</p> <p>Congress is one of the most recurrent defendants in the Supreme Court, with 47 lawsuits pending against decisions made in voting sessions or by leaders of the House and Senate. These cases are largely filed by political parties, with the majority coming from left-wing groups such as the Workers&#8217; Party, Socialism and Freedom Party, and the Communist Party of Brazil.</p> <p>Constitutional law expert Eduardo Mendonça says that the judicialization of politics is a phenomenon found in all democracies since the <a href="">end of World War II</a>. With regards to Brazil, he says the growth in these lawsuits in the last decade is the result of the confrontational relationship between the Executive and Legislative branches of government.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image"><img loading="lazy" width="1024" height="572" src="" alt="Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr" class="wp-image-37584" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1140w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /><figcaption>Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes. Photo: Fabio Rodrigues Pozzebom/ABr</figcaption></figure> <p>&#8220;Whoever loses in the political arena takes the matter to the judiciary. When the courts [accept these cases], it serves as an incentive to file more and more lawsuits,&#8221; says Mr. Mendonça.</p> <p>The phenomenon is aggravated by the openness of the <a href="">Brazilian Constitution</a>. Dating back to 1988, the constitution is one of the longest in the world. Covering practically all aspects of society, it is not difficult for lawyers to find loopholes that warrant bringing all sorts of matters before the Supreme Court.</p> <h2>Covid-19 in courts</h2> <p>Justice Celso de Mello&#8217;s decision to place Jair Bolsonaro under formal investigation is just one of several messages sent by the Supreme Court to the president. Since he took office in January 2019, many of his decisions have been criticized by members of the Supreme Court — this has only increased since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.</p> <p>Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s plan to end social isolation, for instance, was criticized by Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes. According to Justice Mendes, despite the president&#8217;s powers, he or she cannot engage in a policy that is tantamount to &#8220;genocide.&#8221;</p> <p>Since the beginning of the pandemic, almost 1,500 Covid-19-related cases have been presented to the Supreme Court. Of that total, just over 670 were dismissed. Most of the requests deal with highly complex issues such as health treatments, pleas to release prisoners at risk for Covid-19, and tax breaks due to the drop in economic activity.</p> <p>The <a href="">caseload</a> also includes constitutional issues related to Mr. Bolsonaro&#8217;s participation in quasi-putschist demonstrations and his encouragement of public gatherings. In one such case, filed by the Workers&#8217; Party, Justice Alexandre de Moraes ordered Mr. Bolsonaro to explain what measures the federal government has taken to contain the pandemic.</p> <p>In the eyes of the center-left Workers&#8217; Party, the government is waging an information war on the importance of social isolation and health authorities are accused of covering up data on Covid-19 infections. &#8220;It is clear that [the cases] are under-reported, and the government is ignoring this reality. We need to know the number of hospitalizations for acute respiratory distress syndrome, on the [public] and private networks, and the projections of the numbers of cases of contagion and unreported deaths,&#8221; said Workers&#8217; Party president Gleisi Hoffmann.

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Brenno Grillo

Brenno has worked as a journalist since 2012, specializing in coverage related to law and the justice system. He has worked for O Estado de S. Paulo, Portal Brasil, ConJur, and has experience in political campaigns.

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