The Tribunal Supremo de Justicia (TSJ), the nation’s top court, issued a ruling today that places new limits on the powers of the National Assembly. The TSJ ruling has stripped the National Assembly of the power to remove magistrates from the TSJ, essentially making the court immune from parliamentary oversight. Part of that ruling can be found in the following section:
The National Assembly does not have the power to inspect, annul, revoke or in any shape leave without effect the process of… assigning magistrates to the Tribunal Supremo de Justicia – both principals and back-up….
A revision of the rushed assignment of 13 TSJ magistrates back in December was high on the National Assembly’s priority list. In its last act, on December 23, the PSUV-controlled National Assembly assigned 13 new magistrates and 21 back-ups to the top court after less than two legislative sessions to vet the candidates. One of the people named to the TSJ on December 23 was Cristian Zerpa. Zerpa ran as a PSUV candidate in the parliamentary elections just three weeks earlier, and now sits on the court’s Electoral Hall.
The ruling outlines the only way for a TSJ magistrate to be removed from his or her seat before the end of the twelve year term: a finding of “grave error” by the Consejo Moral Republicano [part of the Popular Power branch] followed by a 2/3 vote from the National Assembly.
The ruling speaks generally on the National Assembly’s role as a check on executive and judicial power, but includes a section reminding the legislature that they are not immune from the “nuclear option” – being dissolved by the President:
[The executive branch] is a check against [the National Assembly], including through the severe measure granted by Artile 236.21 to dissolve the National Assembly to avoid serious disturbances to the exercise of constitutional functions that belong to the Government and to the Public Administration against the well-being of all citizens, with the end of protecting the constitutional functioning of the government and society in general.
The same ruling makes it impossible for the National Assembly to sanction government ministers who refuse to answer the legislature’s summons. Previously, the National Assembly could punish government ministers who ignored National Assembly requests to answer deputies’ questions, as laid out in the Ley Sobre Regimen de Comparecencia [Appearance Rules Law]. The ruling means that government ministers will be able to ignore the legislature’s calls to answer questions without fear of punishment.
Case File 16-0153, which contains the rulings, can be found here.
Allup Responds to TSJ Ruling
National Assembly President Henry Ramos Allup responded to the TSJ’s reigning in of the legislature’s powers today, saying that the MUD “saw it coming” and the National Assembly would offer a formal response to the ruling in a few days.
Although this is not a surprise in general terms, in dispositive and narrative terms – which are much more restricted – it requires a well thought-out response.
NA To Present Preliminary Findings of TSJ Assignment Investigation Today
Shortly before the release of the TSJ’s ruling, National Assembly deputy Julio Borges had told reporters that the National Assembly would receive the preliminary findings of an investigation into the PSUV’s rushed assignment of TSJ magistrates back in December. Borges hinted that the report, to be presented by deputy Carlos Berrizbeitia, would contain shocking information:
Today we’re going to present the conclusions from this investigation. The country will be surprised by the blackmail and political pressure [for magistrates to resign early], [cases of] magistrate voting for themselves — things that degrade the justice system.
Energy Minister Won’t Attend NA Meeting
Minister of Electrical Energy Luis Motta Dominguez is refusing to attend a committee meeting at the National Assembly with the goal of seeking a solution to the country’s growing electrical crisis. This is the second time Motta Dominguez was invited to attend. The meeting, organized by the Comision Mixta para la Situacion Electrica [Mixed Commission for the Electrical Situation] will go on as scheduled without the minister.
On February 19, Motta Dominguez said that unless drastic measures were taken, the country’s electrical grid could collapse as early as April.
Borges: Gov’t Runs 500 Idle Food Companies
In an interview that aired on Globovision last night, deputy Julio Borges provided some figures regarding the expropriation of private companies over the years by the PSUV. Borges pointed out that the Attorney General’s office has a list of approximately 6,000 private businesses that the government has expropriated, 500 of which are food producers and are currently sitting idle.
Borges also pointed out that while 50% of the companies that produce corn flour in Venezuela belong to the government, evidence of their inefficiency is found throughout the country’s supermarkets:
I ask Venezuelans: when you go to a store, which brand of corn flour do you find? You’ll surely find harina pan [corn flour] made by Polar [a private company], but you’ll never find any of the 12 brands the government owns.
Aside from controlling a sizable chunk of the country’s corn flour production, the Venezuelan government also controls 70% of coffee, 63% of sugar, and 55% of rice production. Borges also claims that the government owns 4 million hectares of fertile land which is currently being unused for agriculture.
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