President Alberto Fernández and allied governors this morning presented Congress with a request to impeach the four Supreme Court justices, Horacio Rosatti, Carlos Rosenkratz, Juan Carlos Maqueda and Ricardo Lorenzetti. They allege that the Court overstepped its competence in the federal tax share ruling and colluded with the opposition in a dispute over control of the Council of Magistrates.
Jorge Capitanich, governor of Chaco, said in a press conference after meeting with the President and the other governors that “[the Justices] should be the guardians of the Constitution,” but that they’re “violating it”.
The president’s right to seek the impeachment of Supreme Court justices for poor performance or misconduct is contemplated in Article 53 of Argentina’s Constitution. The request will go to a congressional commission, who will decide whether to send it to a vote. However, the government is unlikely to secure the two-thirds majority it needs in both lower and upper chambers for the impeachment to succeed.
The court’s recent order to restore a percentage of federal tax funding to Buenos Aires City showed that the Court “arrogates to itself powers that are not its own and oversteps its competences and powers”, the officials argued. They wrote in the impeachment request that the ruling was “entirely political, thus it should be analysed by looking at the great political and economic impact that it brings to the federal distribution of resources”.
The request was announced by the President after two major political events in the last days of 2022: the tax share ruling on December 21, and the conversations leaked from the phone of Buenos Aires City security minister, Marcelo D’Alessandro, which appear to reveal informal alliances between the Court and the government.
With the signature of the President and 12 governors, the 35-page request details why they think the Justices’ performance should be reviewed for being politically biased towards Juntos por el Cambio, specifically Horacio Rodriguez Larreta, the mayor of Buenos Aires. “There is a spurious coexistence in which judicial rulings of the High Court explicitly benefit the Cambiemos political alliance, and particularly the government of Horacio Rodríguez Larreta,” it reads.
Last week, chats purportedly leaked from D’Alessandro’s phone revealed alleged negotiations between the Minister and lobbyist Silvio Robles, Horacio Rosatti’s confidant, over the tax share dispute ruling and the structure of the Council of Magistrates.
However, the origin and legitimacy of the chats will still need to be proved, especially if they are to be used in a court case. “The chats illustrate how Robles, representing Rosatti, told D’Alessandro how Juntos por el Cambio should act in Congress in order to obtain the majority for the Council of Magistrates,” said the document.
“The main challenge is to prove their authority and integrity, mainly that they haven’t been edited or trimmed,” Gustavo Arballo, an expert in constitutional law at Universidad de La Pampa, told The Buenos Aires Herald. “They will also need to prove the link between the author [D’Alessandro] and the officers he was allegedly chatting with. Probably, they’ll look for this proof while they’re carrying out the impeachment, but it’s not as easy as taking a screenshot and proceeding with an indictment,” he said.
Arballo told The Buenos Aires Herald that there are precedents for these processes. “In 2002, there was an impeachment process against all the Court’s justices, which was even voted in the Lower House, but it didn’t make it to the Senate,” he said. “But, unless something happens, it’s unlikely that the impeachment will gain two thirds of the Lower House votes.”
After the impeachment claims and chat leaks, the first days of January are marked by political turmoil. On Tuesday, Governor Zamora, from Santiago del Estero, filed a lawsuit against Silvio Robles, Rossati’s confidant, for “influence peddling” and “breaching of duty as a public official”. Robles refused to hand in his phone as proof for the investigation.
Later that day, the temporary leave of Marcelo D’Alessandro from Larreta’s cabinet was announced. “I am not resigning,” he said, claiming he is taking time off to be with his family and organize his life following an alleged malicious leak of false chats.
The next steps are in the hands of the Lower House. An executive order allowing extraordinary sessions in Congress is expected to be signed by President Alberto Fernández, where lawmakers will debate this topic and others.