BRASILIA (Reuters) - Brazil’s Senate on Wednesday confirmed President Michel Temer’s justice minister to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court, a controversial appointment due to the number of cabinet ministers and ruling party leaders facing corruption allegations.
Alexandre Moraes, a 49-year-old lawyer, law professor and former public security secretary of Sao Paulo state, vowed to remain “absolutely impartial” when judging any corruption cases involving his former cabinet colleagues or Temer himself. Moraes was approved on a 55-to-13 vote.
Leftist senators slammed his appointment as a move to protect Temer’s government from the sprawling “Car Wash” kickback investigation that threatens to implicate a large swath of Brazil’s political establishment.
Six members of Temer’s cabinet as well as the president himself have been named in plea bargain testimony by defendants in Brazil’s biggest corruption scandal, and many of the ministers could end up on trial before the Supreme Court.
Moraes declined to say if he would recuse himself if the Supreme Court eventually judges a case involving allegedly illegal campaign funding of the successful 2014 presidential campaign ticket, when Temer was the vice president to the now-impeached President Dilma Rousseff.
Critics say he should recuse himself in any cases that come before the Supreme Court, given his extremely close ties to the people who may be put on trial before the court.
Moraes was ambiguous when asked about possible changes to a law that states Brazil’s federal congress, members of the executive branch and thousands of other officials can only be tried by the Supreme Court. The court is so slow in dealing with its case overload, critics say, that the so-called “privileged forum” is tantamount to impunity.
At Tuesday’s 10-hour hearing on his nomination, Moraes denied reports in local media that he plagiarized a Spanish jurist in one of his law books, including passages that were nearly identical.
He also refuted claims from some senators during his confirmation process that his law firm in Sao Paulo defended a transportation firm linked to Brazil’s largest drug gang, the First Command of the Capital, known as the PCC. The claims have also been reported in local media.
Moraes would take the seat left by Justice Teori Zavascki, who died in a small plane crash last month.
Zavascki handled the cases of politicians involved in the “Car Wash” probe and was widely respected for his work on the highly politicized investigations. But his case load was taken over by another of the 11 justices, so Moraes would not take them over.
In the process, one Supreme Court justice responds to an investigator’s requests or individual charges while the full court conducts a trial.
Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe