A Fearful Appointment

The long-delayed and keenly-awaited appointment of 33 new justices for the Supreme Tribunal of Justice (TSJ) is upon us. Who are these people, anyway?

Remember last Sunday, when we gave approval for the appointment of new authorities? Well, the game is on. The issue, a hot potato between different MUD factions, took place today.

You may recall the chavista National Assembly appointing 33 woefully unfit individuals as new TSJ justices in December 2015, violating its own procedures. The new National Assembly declared that appointment illegal and announced that they would appoint 33 new justices. A year and a half later, we’ve reached the day.

These are our new justices.

What do we know about our new highest judges, the ones who will be up for the monumental challenge of restoring the rule of law in Venezuela? Well, I know a truckload of lawyers and I have no idea who these guys are.

The new justices are rather obscure individuals, and I don’t mean “obscure” to casual viewers, I mean people unknown in Venezuelan legal circles. Prominent lawyers associated with MUD, like Jesús María Casal or Tamara Adrián, are not included.

Part of me can’t stop thinking that we needed the best people for this job and we didn’t get it.

Regrettably, most of the big names from the candidates list such as Tulio Álvarez Ledo, well-known practitioner and academic; Nelson Chitty la Roche, former copeyano congressman and university professor; Sonia Sgambatti, former congresswoman and feminist scholar; and Mildred Camero, former head of the National Anti-Drugs Commission and retired criminal judge, did not make the cut.

The reasons are nebulous. I can think of many brilliant lawyers, from academia and private practice, who’d make terrific justices. One can cynically think that the cogollo practices of the cuarta that led to the corrupt and unprofessional justice we had before chavismo played a role in this selection. However, I think the real culprit here is fear. And a very rational one for that matter. We have a sad history of incredibly accomplished, honest and law-abiding citizens imprisoned under kafkaesque circumstances for the sole crime of daring to oppose the government and, in this case, the knives were out even before today’s appointment.

I mean, it’s understandable to not want to switch your corner office at the law firm for a cell in Ramo Verde, and I recognize the bravery of the new justices in accepting their appointments in spite of almost-certain criminal prosecution. A sad irony is that the fact that they are mostly unknown will make it easier for the government to prosecute them. However, part of me can’t stop thinking that we needed the best people for this job and we didn’t get them. I hope to be proven wrong.