Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has come under criticism after nominating his personal lawyer, who defended him against corruption charges, to the country’s powerful Supreme Court.
Thursday’s selection of Cristiano Zanin to fill a seat on the 11-member bench quickly drew the wrath of opposition figures and legal experts alike, who claim the appointment would be a conflict of interest and undermine the impartiality of the supreme tribunal in could endanger.
“Lula was not only his personal lawyer, but also called Zanin his ‘friend and comrade’. Lula wants to bag the Supreme Court, but we will not accept it,” said Nikolas Ferreira, a prominent right-wing lawmaker. He said he had filed an injunction to stop the nomination.
The furor is likely to weigh on Lula’s popularity, which has gradually declined since he took office in January, as the left-wing leader focuses more on his core base than the broad coalition that propelled him to election victory.
“We need strong and independent institutions. Zanin’s nomination goes the other way,” said João Amoêdo, former president of the right-wing Novo party.
Born in the state of São Paulo, Zanin, 47, represented Lula during the long-running Lava Jato, or Car Wash, corruption investigation that resulted in Lula’s jail term of more than 18 months on bribery charges.
His conviction was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court, which ruled that the court that sentenced him had no jurisdiction. That decision paved the way for Lula to run in last year’s presidential election.
“Zanin will be a great minister of the Supreme Court. I know his qualities, training and competences. And I think Brazil will be proud,” Lula said on Thursday.
Officially known as the Supreme Federal Court, or STF, the court is one of the most influential institutions in the country, adjudicating thousands of cases each year, including rulings on political decisions and legislation.
While supporters say its actions are rooted in the country’s broad constitution, critics – especially those on the right – accuse the STF of “legal activism”.
“The court is going through a moment of great distrust,” said Rubens Gleezer, a professor of constitutional law at the Getulio Vargas Foundation.
“In this context, an appointment of someone so close to the president, which could give the impression of an exchange of favours, continues the process of eroding the authority of the court and weakening the image of the judiciary as a whole,” he added. .
If Zanin is confirmed, seven of the STF’s 11 members will have been appointed by chairmen of Lula’s Workers’ Party.
Despite the outcry over his nomination, Zanin’s candidacy is expected to be approved after a hearing and vote in the Senate. His nomination also received support from other STF judges, who pointed out that several members of the court had defended politicians before being appointed to the tribunal.
Zanin could serve in court until age 75, when judges are required to retire. Lula will be able to make a new appointment to the court in October when another judge retires.