Carlos Fayt, the 97-year-old Supreme Court justice with 32 years in office you may have heard about this week, tendered his resignation from office yesterday and announced he would be leaving his seat on December 11, a day after the new President takes office.
Here’s the thing: the fact that Fayt will be stepping down the same day President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner stops being President doesn’t seem to be entirely random.
Why is that relevant?
Earlier this year, Fayt was pressured by the government to resign because of his advanced age, since according to the Constitution’s 1994 amendment, judges must step down once they turn 75 years old. However, Fayt managed to retain his seat by claiming that since he had already been in office when the amendment came into effect, it didn’t apply to him.
The government’s insistence he go may also have had something to do with the fact that, according to research carried out by Chequeado, Fayt ruled against the Kirchnerite administration 80 percent of the time in cases involving the government. It may also have had something to do with the fact that he was allegedly close to Supreme Court President Ricardo Lorenzetti — who has openly stood against the government — and always voted the same way he did. Who knows.
The battle over Supreme Court House seats began when Justice Eugenio Zaffaroni, whose affinity with the government is well known, stepped down in January this year after turning 75. He nominated his protégé, 34-year-old Roberto Carlés, to replace him.
Of course, controversy arose.
The opposition had several problems with Carlés’ nomination; namely, his pro-K political stance, his CV (some of which was later found to be fabricated) and his age: “They’re picking a pro-K advocate to fill a Court seat,” stated Sergio Massa, one of many who voiced his discontent.
Since judges need a two-thirds majority in the Senate in order to make it to the Supreme Court, Carlés’ detractors’ virulent opposition has made it impossible for him to get a seat. His nomination still waits away in the upper house.
Cue the Kirchnerite offensive:
In April, then-Secretary General to the Presidency Aníbal Fernández accused Fayt of signing a document re-electing Lorenzetti Supreme Court President outside its chambers, which would have made the re-election invalid.
“The document that justifies the vote says the election was carried out at the Supreme Court. That wasn’t the case,”
Starting then, the government raised doubts over the Justice’s mental health and launched a crusade to get him to take an exam to see if he was still capable to do his job.
On May 13, the Chamber of Deputies’ Impeachment Committee, fueled by a Kirchnerite majority, approved a motion to do so.
The opposition was quick to argue that it wasn’t within the committee’s jurisdiction to carry out such an investigation and that, moreover, age was not a valid motive to remove the Justice.
Fayt also got love from several groups of lawyers, who gathered on the steps of the Tribunales Palace to support him and show their “worry and discontent over the attacks perpetrated by the national government against members of the nation’s Supreme Court.”
On June 2, the Impeachment Committee created a special subgroup to determine whether Fayt still had his ducks in a row, to the opposition’s distress. The subcommittee met twice. On both occasions, it brought in neurologists to thoroughly examine elderly people’s cognitive capabilities. That’s all we all know about that, actually, since the special group held its meetings in strict secrecy. Neither the press nor deputies who weren’t part of the special group were allowed in the meetings.
And that was it. Wait, what?
After the second meeting, the committee went into radio silence and the topic was never mentioned again.
The next time Fayt made the news was yesterday, when he tendered his resignation from the Supreme Court. His and Cristina’s tenuous relationship was almost palpable, even then. She accepted his resignation in a decree that was even briefer than the resignation letter, with absolutely no pomp or circumstance. Let’s recall that when Justice Zaffaroni stepped down earlier this year, he was thanked for his services. No such love for Fayt.
Even though he had led the government’s offensive against him earlier this year, Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández did have some kind words for the Justice: “This morning, I took care of shedding light on what Fayt has meant. I have had an excellent relationship with the man, who possesses unparalleled knowledge and has written 33 books.”
“That doesn’t mean I take back the questions I raised about his capabilities. But to not recognize him with a standing ovation would be wrong,”
“Let the poor guy be, he’s 97. Let him rest in the best way possible so he doesn’t have to be under that much pressure,” he finished.
And rest he will.