Puebla, Mexico, July 15, 2016 (venezuelanalysis.com) – Venezuelan legislators demanded Thursday that three members of the country’s Supreme Court step down.
In a vote widely backed by the opposition, the National Assembly (AN) endorsed a controversial report claiming the current Supreme Court (TSJ) is unconstitutional. The report was produced by a special AN committee tasked with investigating the conduct of the high court.
Presented to legislators earlier Thursday, the report alleged 13 of the TSJ’s justices had been appointed in an unconstitutional manner. It also named three justices the committee had concluded were unfit for their positions, including Calixto Ortega, Lourdes Suarez and Cristian Zerpa.
The report was authored by members of the right-wing opposition coalition, the MUD, which currently holds a majority in the AN. However, pro-government legislators have argued the AN does not have the authority to remove the sitting judges.
“There must be evidence of serious misconduct for judges to be removed,” said Edwin Rojas, a legislator from the pro-government bloc, the GPP.
Generally, a TSJ judge can only be suspended from office with the approval of the attorney general, the human rights ombudsperson, the comptroller general, as well as the AN. However, the Constitution does allow the AN to unilaterally remove a TSJ judge if two thirds of the legislature agree they committed a serious act of misconduct. A 2004 reform also allows the AN to revoke a TSJ judge’s position if legislators find they were appointed under false pretences, such as using false credentials to obtain the position in the first place.
The complaints against the three judges named in the AN’s report centre around criticisms of a lack of impartiality and due process.
Some of the fiercest attacks has been leveled at Zerpa, a former PSUV legislator who was appointed to the TSJ shortly after losing his AN seat in the December 2015 elections. MUD leaders have claimed Zerpa’s appointment violated a Constitutional requirement that judges remain politically impartial.
Zerpa and 12 other judges were appointed to the TSJ during the lame duck period between the December elections and the swearing in of the new MUD-dominated AN a month later in January. At the time, the MUD complained the move was a last minute power grab by the outgoing PSUV-majority AN and President Nicolas Maduro.
The accusations have been dismissed by PSUV leaders, though since then the TSJ has struck down all major pieces of legislation approved by the AN.