President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner faces yet another onslaught of criticism after yesterday afternoon’s announcement of Roberto Carlés as her candidate to replace Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni, who resigned aged 75 last year (in accordance with Article 2 of Law 26.1863) as a member of the Supreme Court.
Julio Alak, the Minister of Justice who was charged with making the announcement from a Conference Room in the Casa Rosada yesterday, seemed skeptical and didn’t fail to highlight how, if voted in, the 33-year-old lawyer will become the “youngest justice in the history of the Supreme Court”.
But youth is by far the least of Carlés’ problems. Despite a stellar academic record, with graduate and postgraduate degrees from the University of Buenos Aires alongside buckets of professional experience at the Faculty of Law and published works in several continents, Carlés has been accused of being an ultra-kirchnerite militant and has attracted criticism from those questioning the appointment of a person with such categorical political affiliations as a supposedly impartial Judge of the Supreme Court.
Sergio Massa, Frente Renovador’s presidential hopeful, stressed that a Court Magistrate “should be synonymous with balance, with respect to the Constitution and not with militancy and nor should he be part of a political faction”. Carlés’ participation in helping draft Zaffaroni’s controversial Criminal Code, which the government eventually froze without sending on to Congress, also came under fire: “A representative of Zaffaroni’s abolitionist Criminal Code is being elected when the Argentine society has already said no to a code which lowers sentences and eliminates recurrence. Argentina needs independent and firm judges in the fight against crime”.
Radical Senator Gerardo Morales vented to Twitter: “No experience and active militancy in La Cámpora, @CFKArgentina is insulting and provoking us with her nomination of Carlés @robertinocarles for the Supreme Court of Justice.”
If anything, Cristina’s proposal has served to bring the two groups closer together. In a showy dismissal of the President’s candidate, Massa vowed to request that UCR (the Radical Party) be in charge of the next nomination: “Argentina needs judicial independence which the Argentina that is coming is going to give, not judges that are activists.” Solution: replace one party’s candidate with another’s?
Carlés supports marriage equality, adoption rights for gay couples, the legalization of abortion and banning religious symbols from courthouses across the country, which is actually pretty good.
But he has drawn criticism over the years with some rather controversial tweets: “It is inconceivable,” raged Massa, (referring to an incident during the Criminal Code procedure which involved reporter Eduardo Feinmann) “that someone who calls a journalist a ‘blockhead’ can become a Court Minister; they are choosing a pro-government militant to occupy a Court position”.
In 2011, he even attacked pope-to-be Jorge Bergoglio: “How can Bergoglio speak of work, to the workers? Bergoglio, who never worked a day in his life?” Today, however, Carlés boasts that he and Francis are best buddies and Perfil has even alleged that it was Pope Francis who recommended the controversial nomination to Cristina.
Since Argentina hasn’t yet had enough of conspiracy and cover-ups, the most serious opposition comes from those suggesting that the risky proposal is actually a cunning plan to deflect attention from the Nisman case (as if that were possible). National UCR lawmaker Ricardo Alfonsín argued, “It is obvious that the pro-government forces are using the SIDE Reform and the announcement of the proposal to replace Zaffaroni in the Supreme Court as a sort of strategy-of-substitution of problems or conflicts.” He went on to accuse the government of attempting the relax the vigilance of the public “with respect to the weight they invest in the accusation of the prosecutor Alberto Nisman and his death.”
Massa chimed in, claiming “it is nothing more than a smokescreen from the government to cover up the real problem: a prosecutor dared to investigate, ended up dead and the truth is nowhere to be found.” Radical comrade-in-arms, Miguel Buzze added that “it is clear that this isn’t the best moment for the government to propose a new Court member. The government’s desperation to preserve its power of influence over the Justice system forces it to commit errors of this nature.”
However, it’s less clear when exactly they would have the new Justice appointed. According to Néstor Kirchner’s 2003 decree, the President has a 30-day deadline within which to propose a successor. That being tomorrow, it could even be said Cristina’s left it a little late. Or maybe it’s all just another one of her nefarious schemes to distract from Nisman / infiltrate the Supreme Court with her ultra-kirchnerite minions.
If so, it seems unlikely that this one will come to pass. To become a member of the Supreme Court, Carlés will need a vote of approval from two thirds of the senate, and the opposition has already dug their trenches, with a pledge promising not to approve any candidate, of whatever political affiliation, until there is a new government in the Casa Rosada.
Team Cristina already has at least 38 fixed votes, and although they may count with the support of an extra three including ex-President Carlos Menem, they’re still miles way from the additional ten required to legitimize the would-be minister.