A blunt chief justice unafraid to upset Brazil’s status quo

August 29, 2013

Simon Romero – The New York Times, 08/23/2013

Brazil’s highest court has long viewed itself as a bastion of manners and formality. Justices call one another “Your Excellency,” dress in billowing robes and wrap each utterance in grandiloquence, as if little had changed from the era when marquises and dukes held sway from their vast plantations.

But when the chief justice, Joaquim Barbosa, strides into the court, the other 10 excellencies brace themselves for whatever may come next.

In one televised feud, Mr. Barbosa questioned another justice about whether he would even be on the court had he not been appointed by his cousin, a former president impeached in 1992. With another justice, Mr. Barbosa rebuked him over what the chief justice considered his condescending tone, telling him he was not his “capanga,” a term describing a hired thug.

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Brazil has its first ever black head of the Supreme Court

November 26, 2012

UTC – MercoPress, 11/23/2012

The son of a bricklayer and a cleaner Barbosa, 58, pledged in his swearing in “to fulfil the duties of the office of the President of the Federal Supreme Court and the National Council of Justice under the law.”

Barbosa’s elevation to the top judicial post in Brazil, the last country in the Americas to abolish slavery, in 1888, has been heralded as a breakthrough. Despite constituting a majority of the population (52%), Afro-Brazilians languish at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. Only 2.2% of Afro descendants make it to university.

Barbosa shot to fame as the court’s most vocal critic of a congressional vote-buying scheme laid bare in an ongoing trial — dubbed “Mensalao” or “big monthly payments” — of former president Lula da Silva’s top aides.

The scandal nearly cost Lula re-election in 2006, but the 66-year-old founder and leader of the leftist Workers’ Party was cleared.

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Brazil supreme court backs extradition of ex-militant Battisti

November 18, 2009

AFP, 11/18/09

Brazil’s supreme court on Wednesday voted to extradite an Italian ex-militant, Cesare Battisti, wanted for multiple murders dating from the 1970s, despite a government order granting him political asylum.

The court was continuing constitutional deliberations to decide whether its verdict was final, or whether President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva should have the final say in the case.

Chief justice Gilmar Mendes cast the decisive vote, breaking a deadlock among his eight colleagues that had dragged the extradition hearing out over more than two months.

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