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Cablegate: Brazil to Get a New Supreme Court Chief Justice

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 BRASILIA 001076

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 05/05/2014
TAGS: PGOV KJUS PINR SOCI BR
SUBJECT: BRAZIL TO GET A NEW SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE

REF: A. 03 BRASILIA 2875

B. 03 BRASILIA 3342

Classified By: POLOFF RICHARD REITER, FOR 1.4B AND D.

1. (C) SUMMARY. Mauricio Correa, Chief Justice of Brazil's
Supreme Federal Tribunal, will step down May 9 when he
reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70. This will be a
great relief to the Lula administration because Correa has
been a frequent and personal critic of President Lula and
Chief of Staff Jose Dirceu as well as of many of the
administration's policies and reforms. Correa, a former
Senator, never really stopped his politicking, and he is
expected to run for office in 2006. Correa's departure
allows Lula to nominate his fourth Supreme Court justice.
The post of Chief Justice rotates every two years, and the
new Chief will be Nelson Jobim, a much less inflammatory
figure. The second-highest court, the Supreme Justice Court,
also has a new Chief Justice who should likewise be less
acerbic than his predecessor. Correa's retirement opens the
way for a long-awaited judicial reform bill to become law.
END SUMMARY.

MAURICIO CORREA DOES NOT GO GENTLE
----------------------------------
2. (C) Mauricio Correa, Chief Justice of Brazil's highest
court, the Supreme Federal Tribunal (STF), reaches the
mandatory retirement age of 70 on May 9, and his departure
will be a great relief to the Lula administration. Since
assuming the top post in June 2003, Correa has been an
unrelenting and bitter critic of Lula, his top advisors, and
GoB policies. In September 2003, Correa unleashed
surprisingly personal vitriol against the administration in a
widely-read VEJA magazine interview (ref A), calling Lula
dishonest and saying that the authority granted to Chief of
Staff Jose Dirceu was "Stalinist". Lately, Correa has turned
his gunsights on the administration's bills to reform the
pension system and the judiciary. In the eyes of many,
Correa symbolizes all that is wrong with the Brazilian
judiciary: tetchy, turf-conscious, and corporatist. It was
Correa who threatened to declare the administration's pension
reform bill unconstitutional if it reduced judges' pensions,
and Correa who blasted the October 2003 visit of a UN Human
Rights Rapporteur (ref B) who criticized failures in the
Brazilian judiciary.

3. (C) Mauricio Correa was elected a federal Senator from
Brasilia in 1986 as a member of the PDT party, and in
1992-1994 he was Justice Minister to President Itamar Franco.
Franco nominated him to the high court in 1994. It is
widely assumed (and Correa has not denied) that he will run
for Governor or Senator from the Federal District of Brasilia
in the 2006 elections. His eagerness to take partisan
stances on so many political issues over the past year may
well be his way of reestablishing his political profile in
advance of his 2006 campaign. This week was no exception.
On his farewell tour, Correa spoke to a group of judges in
Rio de Janeiro on May 3 and slammed the "slackness" of the
Lula administration for endangering democratic institutions.


NEW CHIEF JUSTICE NELSON JOBIM
------------------------------
4. (C) The new Chief Justice will be Nelson Jobim, currently
the Vice-Chief. Jobim, 58, is from the southern state of Rio
Grande do Sul where early in his career he practiced and
taught law. In 1987, as a member of the PMDB party, he was
elected Federal Deputy and served as sponsor ("relator") of
key Congressional committees drafting the 1988 federal
Constitution. Last year, he raised eyebrows when he revealed
that five articles of the Constitution were never properly
approved (his book on the Constitutional Assembly is due out
this year). He served a second term in Congress (1991-1995)
before President Cardoso named him Justice Minister
(1995-1997) and then to the Supreme Federal Tribunal in 1997.
In 2001, he rotated into a two-year term as Chief of the
Supreme Electoral Tribunal (an ad hoc body always presided
over by an STF judge). In that post, he did an excellent job
administering the October 2002 national elections. Jobim has
clashed with Correa over the past year, sometimes criticizing
and sometimes trying to walk back the latter's acid comments.
Jobim is a proponent of judicial reform and, not
surprisingly, it was he who revealed last year that the STF
issues an incredible average of 85 rulings per day.

NEW HIGH COURT JUDGE
--------------------
5. (C) President Lula has made no announcement yet, but it is
expected that he will name a well-known University of Sao
Paulo law professor, Eros Roberto Grau, 62, to fill the
vacancy on the bench. The STF has eleven members, and this
will be Lula's fourth nomination. Grau is a specialist in
economic and public law and is personally close to both Judge
Jobim and President Lula. He is also known to be supportive
of Lula's views on judicial reform and agrarian reform. The
judicial reform bill, now pending in the Senate, includes two
highly controversial elements: the first would create an
"external control" body --an oversight commission for the
judiciary-- while the second would institute some form of
precedence (not now in use in Brazil), whereby lower courts
must follow certain decisions made by higher courts.


SECOND COURT ALSO HAS NEW CHIEF
-------------------------------
6. (C) The STF is the highest of Brazil's courts, but the
second highest court, the 33-member Supreme Justice Tribunal
(STJ) also has a new Chief Justice. Edson Vidigal, 59,
rotated into a two-year term as Chief of the STJ on April 5.
Vidigal is also supportive of the judicial reform bill,
saying that it should bring much needed "agility and
transparency" to the judiciary. Just as Judge Jobim will be
less combative than Mauricio Correa, Vidigal is likely to be
less acerbic than his predecessor at the STJ, Nilson Naves.
(Naves remains on the STJ but rotated out of the Chief
Justice slot.) Vidigal was a town councilman in his home
state of Maranhao in 1964 when he was jailed by the military
regime. With the 1979 political amnesty, he was elected
Federal Deputy and in 1987 was appointed to the federal bench
by then-President Jose Sarney (now Senate majority leader).
Sarney is from Maranhao and is the political godfather of
many of that state's public figures.

COMMENT - STEPS IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
--------------------------------------
7. (C) Brazil's sclerotic judiciary is in dire need of
reform, but the thin-skinned Judge Mauricio Correa fought
tooth and nail against any type of change while accusing
reform supporters of infringing on the independence of the
judiciary. The reform bill now in the Senate is not
sweeping, but it could bring much-needed administrative
improvement in the form of a precedent system to speed
decisions and make them more uniform. The proposed oversight
commission is really a reflection of the judiciary's
longstanding reluctance to police itself, remove corrupt
judges, and become more responsive to the country's needs.
Like the retirement of Judge Correa, the reform bill will not
resolve every shortcoming of the Brazilian judiciary, but it
is a step in the right direction. Incoming Chief Justice
Nelson Jobim will likely continue to support reforms and help
to end a year of squabbling among the three branches.
HRINAK

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