Venezuela’s Supreme Court Will Not Rule on Reform before Referendum

Venezuela's Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it would not rule on the constitutionality of the proposal to reform 69 articles of Venezuela's constitution until after the upcoming referendum on December 2nd.
Venezuela's Supreme Court Building (Cadena Capriles)

November 24, 2007 ( – Venezuela's Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it would not rule on the constitutionality of the proposal to reform 69
articles of Venezuela's
constitution until after the upcoming referendum on December 2nd. Various
sectors of the opposition have demanded a response from the judicial body after
submitting numerous cases claiming the unconstitutionality of the reform

Earlier this week, opposition
groups increased demands for a response from Venezuela's highest court regarding
several cases they had submitted weeks before. On Monday, opposition students
publicly demanded that the Supreme Court give a ruling regarding a case they submitted
on November 6th. The students had asked for the national referendum scheduled
for December 2nd to be postponed.

"We can't wait 12 days for
an answer. The nation demands [a response] and the students do too," said
university student Ronel Gaglio on Monday.

Opposition political party
Primero Justicia also demanded a response to the various cases before the
court, including a case they submitted earlier this month calling for a
constitutional congress to be convened. According to Primero Justicia, the
proposed changes to the constitution are too far-reaching to be done with a
constitutional reform, and require a constitutional congress to be elected to
write a whole new constitution.

"On November 6th Primero
Justicia came to open the door to Venezuelans to debate whether what is at play
here requires a reform, or a constitutional congress, and we still don't have
any response to such an important case when we are only days away from the
elections," said Primero Justicia leader Juan Carlos Caldera.

But the Supreme Court finally
announced on Thursday that it could not give any ruling regarding the
constitutional reform proposal until after the national referendum scheduled
for December 2nd. The judicial body explained that the legality, or
constitutionality, of the proposal could not be ruled on unless it is approved
in the national referendum, and takes legal effect.

"The project of
constitutional reform ratified by the National Assembly, being an incomplete
normative act, cannot occasion external judicial proceedings, and, therefore,
it is not possible to give an a priori judicial ruling on its content,"
said Supreme Court Justice Arcadio Delgado.

Delgado went on to explain that
the only way the Supreme Court could annul a reform proposal of this type,
before being approved by the voters, is if the reform did not follow one of the
stages established in the Constitution that all constitutional reforms must
follow. These stages include three rounds of discussion in the National
Assembly, approval by a two-thirds majority of the National Assembly, followed
by a national referendum vote.

"As long as the reform
project is still in the process of execution, it is not subject to judicial
control," he added.

Supreme Court Justice Luisa
Estella Morales stated the same last August, saying, "Any cases should be
presented after the referendum, when the reform becomes law, because we cannot
interpret a tentative law."

Two of the five judges of the
court's constitutional change disagree with the decision, however. One of them,
Pedro Rondón, argued that in this case the Supreme Court should be able to make
a ruling about the case if indeed the reform process goes outside the rules of
the existing constitution.

"If the Assembly
designates the project a reform, violating the constitutional nature that would
make a constitutional congress necessary, it is illogical that no one can
control this error," said Rondón.

And although Justice Carmen
Zuleta de Merchan agreed with the final decision, she also questioned whether
or not the Supreme Court should play a larger role in controlling legislation
that affects the text of the constitution.

The Supreme Court's decision
was criticized by the opposition, which had hoped to force the government to
postpone the December 2nd national referendum. At a political rally against the
constitutional reform in the eastern state of Anzoategui, opposition leader
Manuel Rosales said the decision of the court is just another of the many
reasons why Venezuelans should vote "No" in the upcoming referendum.