Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Top Court on a collision course

SAO PAULO – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro is again at odds with the country’s Supreme Court, pardoning a congressman who had just been convicted by Supreme Court justices for inciting violence against one of them.

Judges could review the pardon, and the case threatens to become an institutional crisis as Bolsonaro prepares for a second term.


In a nearly unanimous vote on April 20, Brazil’s top court sentenced new lawmaker Daniel Silveira to nearly nine years in prison for inciting physical assaults on Supreme Court justices — specifically Justice Alexandre de Moraes, who is leading a separate investigation into the spread of fake news that had already led to a conviction of Silveira.

“May the people enter the Supreme Court, grab Alexandre de Moraes by the collar, shake his egghead and throw it in a trash can,” Silveira said in a social media broadcast in February 2021.


The day after Silveira’s conviction, Bolsonaro issued a decree pardoning him and invoking the right to free speech. Three opposition parties have challenged the decree, claiming that the Brazilian constitution does not allow pardons for personal reasons, such as protecting an ally.

Brazilian presidents traditionally issue year-end pardons based on studies by legal experts at the Justice Department. These have been criticized for releasing corrupt politicians along with others convicted of non-violent crimes. But it is almost unheard of to pardon a particular presidential ally, as US leaders sometimes do in cases like those of Richard Nixon (of Gerald Ford), Marc Rich (of Bill Clinton), or Steve Bannon (of Donald Trump). Has.

And Bolsonaro’s move was particularly provocative, according to Francisco Caputo, a constitutional lawyer and member of the National Council of the Brazilian Bar Association. “The way this one was written, when he mentioned that he was trying to correct the Supreme Court, is defiant. Bolsonaro’s decree says he understood the case better than the country’s top court.”


A commission from the Brazilian Bar Association said on Wednesday that Bolsonaro’s pardon was unconstitutional because it was not in the public interest. The commission also said it was biased and lacked morality.


The far-right president has long accused court judges – most of whom were confirmed during previous left-wing governments – of improperly attempting to thwart his policies and has sought to stoke public opposition to them.

In September, he organized nationwide demonstrations, with demonstrators shouting “Let’s march in!” pushed past police security barriers at the Supreme Court, prompting judges to step up their personal security.

Bolsonaro was particularly upset with de Moraes, who will take over the presidency of the nation’s top electoral court later this year – and oversee the upcoming presidential election. Last September he threatened to ignore judicial decisions, but he never did.


Four of the judges, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to avoid further flaring up tensions, said they fear Bolsonaro could incite more violent anti-judicial demonstrations if they nullify his pardon from Silveira.

An annulment could be possible in a Brazilian system where courts seem more willing to intervene in pardon decisions than US judges.


So far, Supreme Court justices have not publicly questioned the legality of Bolsonaro’s pardon, although at least two have written that the pardon will be reviewed by the court, although no date has been set for it. One of them, Rosa Weber, ruled on Monday that Bolsonaro’s government must justify the pardon within 10 days.

The other, de Moraes, wrote in a document sent to Silveira’s defense team on Tuesday that while the pardon would wipe out his prison time, it would not clear him for another term in Congress.


Judge Luis Roberto Barroso fueled tensions between the executive and the judiciary, saying during a speech on April 24 that the armed forces “are ordered to attack the (election) process and try to discredit it”. He was referring to military leaders who had publicly reiterated Bolsonaro’s doubts about the reliability of Brazil’s electoral system.


Brazil’s Defense Ministry, which oversees the armed forces, issued a statement saying Barroso’s comments were “irresponsible and constitute a serious misdemeanor.”

The issue of the military’s role hangs over the conflict in part because Bolsonaro has often praised the 1964 coup that brought Brazil under military control by 1985. Bolsonaro’s die-hard supporters frequently urge him to use a constitutional clause allowing presidents to use the armed forces to enforce “law and order” alongside the police and other agencies.


Some have suggested using troops against the court in some way, although experts overwhelmingly say it would be unconstitutional.

With elections slated for October, Bolsonaro has frequently attacked the reliability of electronic voting machines, claiming the race is being rigged when there are no printed receipts for voters, although experts say there is no evidence of this. The Brazilian electoral authority oversees the electronic system and counts some judges from the Supreme Court among its members.

Two of Bolsonaro’s cabinet ministers, as well as a close ally, told the AP that the president had been privately discussing the possibility of invoking the constitutional clause to deploy the armed forces over actions by the Supreme Court that have obstructed or undermined its decisions, despite the fact that the case is. It is not clear what exactly the purpose would be. Two of them said they forwarded this information to Supreme Court justices. All spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.



Álvares reported from Brasilia.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Brazil’s Bolsonaro, Top Court on a collision course

Jaclyn Diaz

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