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Two Courts, Two Interpretations

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Impeachment proceedings of President Dilma Rousseff have begun in Brazil, but the Brazilian National Congress will not decide alone, nor will its decision be final. The Brazilian Supreme Court (STF) recently heard a Claim of Breach of Fundamental Precept (ADPF no. 378; In re Brazilian Communist Party)—an action directed to protect important constitutional provisions—filed by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCdoB). In its decision, STF ruled 8-3 that the Senate may dismiss by a simple majority the House of Representatives’ decision of accepting charges of impeachment against President Rousseff. At a minimum, this decision affects impeachment procedures, and its greater repercussions are still unknown.
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TwoCourts,TwoInterpretations
27 APR 2016 | IGOR DE LAZARI, ANTONIO G. SEPULVEDA AND CARLOS BOLONHA
POSTED IN: CONSTITUTIONAL LAW
ImpeachmentproceedingsofPresidentDilmaRousseffhavebegunin
Brazil,buttheBrazilianNationalCongresswillnotdecidealone,nor
willitsdecisionbefinal.TheBrazilianSupremeCourt(STF)recently
heardaClaimofBreachofFundamentalPrecept(ADPFno.378;In
reBrazilianCommunistParty)—anactiondirectedtoprotect
importantconstitutionalprovisions—filedbytheBrazilian
CommunistParty(PCdoB).Initsdecision,STFruled83thatthe
SenatemaydismissbyasimplemajoritytheHouseof
Representatives’decisionofacceptingchargesofimpeachment
againstPresidentRousseff.Ataminimum,thisdecisionaffects
impeachmentprocedures,anditsgreaterrepercussionsarestill
L E G A L A N A L Y S I S A N D C O M M E N T A R Y F R O M J U S T I A
unknown.
Thisactionsoughtinteraliatoobtainajudicialdecisionauthorizing
asenatorialreviewoftheHouse’sadmissibilityofcharges.Justice
LuisRobertoBarroso,whodeliveredtheopinionoftheCourt,stated
thattheSenateconstitutionalprerogativetotrythePresident
(article52,sectionIoftheBrazilianFederalConstitution)impliesthe
possibilityofreviewingHouse’sindictment.Hence,STFheldthat
provisionsofLawNo.1.079/1950(ImpeachmentProceedingsAct)
assigningtheHouseofRepresentativesthesolepowerof
impeachmentareunconstitutional.TheSTFaffirmeditsprecedentin
WritofMandamusno.21.564(1992)(DeMellov.Speakerofthe
HouseofRepresentatives),whichsettledtheimpeachmentprocedure
ofPresidentFernandoCollordeMello.
However,STFapparentlymisinterpretedimpeachmentrelated
statutes.ItemIofarticle51ofBrazilianFederalConstitution
(CF/1988)statesthatitisexclusivelythecompetenceoftheChamber
ofDeputies(BrazilianHouse)toauthorize,bytwothirdsofits
members,legalproceedingtobeinitiatedagainstthePresidentand
theVicePresident.Inaddition,article86ofCF/1988providesthatif
chargesagainstthePresidentoftheRepublicareacceptedbytwo
thirdsoftheChamberofDeputies,heshallbesubmittedtotrial
beforetheSupremeFederalCourtforcommoncriminaloffensesor
beforetheFederalSenateforcrimesofmalversation,withtheChief
JusticeoftheSTFpresiding.
Therefore,asystematicinterpretation—adoptedbyJusticeLuiz
EdsonFachininhisdissent—oftheaforementionedprovisionshints:
iftheHousebelievesthatthearticle(s)ofimpeachmentmeritatrial,
theSenateshouldimmediatelyinitiatetrialproceedings,insteadof
reviewingtheHouse’spriordecision.JusticeFachinwrotethatthe
SenateshouldonlyreadtheHouse’sreportaslongasitlacks
authoritytorejecttheauthorizationissuedbytheHouse.TheHouse
similarlydefendedtheimpossibilityofsenatorialreview.Ergo,STF
madetwomajormistakes:(i)itintroducedasecondopinion
mechanisminimpeachmentlegislativeproceedingsand,more
importantly,(ii)ruledthelimitsofitsownjurisdictionoverjudicial
reviewofimpeachmentprocedure,defyingthemaximnemojudexin
causasua(“nooneshouldbeajudgeinhisowncause”).
SecondOpinions
Mechanismsofsecondopinion,e.g.,senatorialreviewoftheHouse
impeachmentdecision,aregenerallyintendedtoimprovethe
accuracyofdecisions.Tsebelis&Moneyarguethatknowingthat
someoneelsewillexaminetheproductmakestheproducermore
carefulinitiallyandasecondchamber,regardlessofitslevelof
expertiseandwisdom,constitute...aqualitycontrolmechanism.
However,reviewabilityreducestheHouseimportancein
impeachmentprocedureswhilstincreasingthepossibilitythatitwill
engageinstrategicbehavior.Thatis,becauseitknowsthattheSenate
willreviewitsdecisions,theHousemayavoidmakingpolitically
difficultdecisions,optinginsteadtodecideonlyminorissues.
Furthermore,analysisofsecondopinionmechanismsrevealthat
aggregationofopinionsorpreferencesmay“amplify,”ratherthan
correct,individualerrorsinjudgment.Thosemechanisms,according
toVermeule,havemanyattractions,especiallyfromthestandpoint
ofliberaltheorists:theyareinsomesensevalueneutral,andthus
promisetoimprovethequalityofdecisionmakingwithoutdictating
substantiveoutcomesapriori.Nevertheless,secondopinionsmay
createtheirowncountervailingproblems,mainlyperversity
problems,bywhichanticipationofreviewmayinducefirstopinion
givertoinvesttoolittleinacquiringinformation,ormaydiscourage
herfromusingexpertiseshealreadypossesses.
Nemoiudex
BrazilianandAmericanimpeachmentproceduressharemany
similarities.ThecurrentBrazilianprocedureresemblesimpeachment
proceedingsprescribedbyRepublicoftheUnitedStatesofBrazil’s
Constitutionof1891(CF/1891),whichwasinspiredbytheU.S.
Constitution.TheCF/1891providedthattheChamberofDeputies
shallhaveexclusivepowertodeclarefoundedorunfoundedcharges
againstthePresident(article29)andtheSenateshallhaveexclusive
power,aftertheChamberofDeputiesdecidesarticle(s)of
impeachmentmeritatrial,toconductthelegalproceedingandtrial
ofthePresidentandVicePresidentoftheRepublicforcrimeof
malversation(articles33&53).
Likewise,theU.S.ConstitutionstatesthattheHouseof
Representatives...shallhavethesolePowerofImpeachment
(articleI,§2º,cl.5),whichforLaurenceTribeisanalogoustoa
grandjuryindictmentinthecriminaljusticesystemi.e.theHouseof
Representativesdecidesbymajorityvotewhetherchargesraised
against“civilofficers”aresufficientlyserious,andaresupportedby
sufficientevidence,towarrantholdingaSenatetrial.The
ConstitutionalsoestablishesthattheSenateshallhavethePowerto
tryallImpeachmentsandwhenthePresidentoftheUnitedStatesis
triedtheChiefJusticeshallpreside(articleI,§3,cl.6).Eventhough
BrazilianandAmericanlegalbackgroundsaredistinct,impeachment
proceduresadoptedbybotharesubstantiallyidentical.However,case
lawisirreconcilable.
TheSTFhasalreadyruleditmayreviewlegislativeinternacorporis
impeachmentproceedings.SeeDeMellov.SpeakeroftheHouseof
Representatives;InreBrazilianCommunistParty.Inversely,judicial
courtsinUnitedStatesconsiderimpeachmentrelatedcasesnon
justiciable.SeeRitterv.UnitedStates,84Ct.Cl.293(1936),cert.
den.300U.S.668(1937);Hastingsv.USSenate,ImpeachmentTrial
Com.,716F.Supp.38(D.D.C.1989).InNixonv.UnitedStates506
U.S.224(1993),theSupremeCourtruledthatareviewofthe
ConstitutionalConvention’shistoryandthecontemporary
commentarysupportsareadingoftheconstitutionallanguageas
deliberatelyplacingtheimpeachmentpowerintheLegislature,with
nojudicialinvolvement,evenforthelimitedpurposeofjudicial
review.ThisledStephenBurbanktoassertthatmostquestionsof
substancearisinginconnectionwithanimpeachmentinquirybythe
HouseoratrialonarticlesofimpeachmentbytheSenatearenot
subjecttojudicialreview.
BacktoBrazil,JusticeMarcoAurelioMellolongbeforetheSenate
verdictonDilma’strialpubliclystatedthatthejudiciaryisthelast
trenchofcitizenshipandtheSenatedecisionmaybechallengedin
ordertodemonstratethatthereisnolegalfactwarranting
impeachment.JusticeMello’sstatementonlyreinforcestheSTF
trendtoregarditselfasthe“finalword”onthemeaningofthe
Constitution.InDirectActionofUnconstitutionalityno.3345(InRe
ProgressiveParty),alandmarkSTFdecision,JusticeCelsodeMello
deliveredtheopinionoftheCourt—onethatbearsstriking
resemblancetotheU.S.SupremeCourt’sdecisioninMarbury
affirmingthatSTFopinionsplayaveryimportantroleinnational
institutionalsystem,givinggroundsforSTFfinalsayonthemeaning
oftheConstitution.
Inaddition,STFhardlyeverinvokesthepoliticalquestiondoctrine.
InBakerv.Carr,369U.S.186,JusticeBrennan,deliveringthe
opinionoftheCourt,ruledthatnonjusticiabilityofapolitical
questionisprimarilyafunctionoftheseparationofpowers.The
doctrineshouldaccordinglybereadbroadlyinBrazilon
impeachmentcases:nevertheless,STFignoreditin1992caseDe
Mellov.SpeakeroftheHouseofRepresentatives,recentlyaffirmed
inADPFno.378(InreBrazilianCommunistParty).
Rupture
Historycouldbedifferent:theBrazilianandU.S.SupremeCourts
bothheardargumentsin1992onimpeachmentrelatedcases,of
petitionersWalterL.Nixon(NixonvUnitedStates)andPresident
FernandoC.deMello(DeMellovSpeakeroftheHouseof
Representatives),butfolloweddifferentpaths:TheSupremeCourtof
theUnitedStatesreaffirmedthepoliticalquestiondoctrinewhilstthe
BrazilianSupremoTribunalFederalreaffirmeditsalleged
interpretivesupremacy.
JusticePauloBrossard,inapassagefromhisdissentinDeMello,
essayedasharedcaselaw.BeforequotingJosephStory(asdidJustice
White,inhisconcurrenceinNixon),hestatedthattheSTFshouldnot
interfereinmattersofexclusivecompetenceoftheNational
Congress,justasitisnotuptoCongresstointerfereinthedecisions
oftheSTFandregardedoffensive[the]interferenceofthejudiciary
onlegislativematters.Inanyevent,hisdissentreservedtohistory
theintersectionpointofBrazilianandAmericancourtsregarding
impeachmentproceedings.
POSTED IN: CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, COURTS AND PROCEDURE, INTERNATIONAL LAW
TAGS: BRAZIL, LEGAL
IGOR DE LAZARI
IgorDeLazariisaGraduateStudentattheFederalUniversityofRiode
Janeiro,ResearcherattheTheoreticalandAnalyticalStudiesonInstitutional
BehaviorLabandLawClerkattheRegionalFederalCourtinRiodeJaneiro.
ANTONIO G. SEPULVEDA
AntonioSepulvedaisProfessorofLawattheGetulioVargasFoundation
(FGV)andattheFluminenseFederalUniversity.Heisaresearcheratthe
TheoreticalandAnalyticalStudiesonInstitutionalBehaviorLabanda
BrazilianInternalRevenueServiceofficer.
CARLOS BOLONHA
CarlosBolonhaistheViceDeanandProfessorofLawattheFederal
UniversityofRiodeJaneiroLawSchool.HeisSchool'sResearch
CoordinatorandaBrazilianNationalCouncilofTechnologicalandScientific
Development(CNPq)ResearchFellow.Heisalsocoordinatorofthe
TheoreticalandAnalyticalStudiesonInstitutionalBehaviorLab,authorof
severalarticlesinvariouslawreviewsandnewspapersandfounderofthe
JournalofInstitutionalStudies(RevistaEstudosInstitucionais).
TheopinionsexpressedinVerdictarethoseoftheindividualcolumnistsanddonot
representtheopinionsofJustia.
©2017Justia
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