Venezuela's outgoing Congress names 13 Supreme Court justices

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela’s Congress on Wednesday named 13 justices to the Supreme Court in a maneuver critics slammed as a last-minute court-packing scheme by the Socialist Party in the final days before it loses control of the legislature in January.

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Since this month’s drubbing in polls that gave the opposition a two-thirds majority, the ruling socialists have accelerated the approval of laws, funding requests and new appointments.

In a demonstration of the sparring likely to come in January when the National Assembly convenes, the two sides were back and forth on the legitimacy of the appointments.

“This is an act made in anger and invalid because it violates the constitution,” said re-elected opposition legislator Alfonso Marquina.

Elvis Amoroso, a self-declared “Chavista” National Assembly member, said that the law had been “strictly fulfilled.” As well as the 13 justices, the National Assembly named 21 substitutes.

President Nicolas Maduro insists the opposition plans to roll back social programs and privatize state agencies, and has backed the creation of a parallel “communal” assembly to counteract the opposition’s win.

The Supreme Court consists of 32 justices across six chambers, who can authorize criminal proceedings against the president, vice president, ministers and lawmakers.

They are also able to veto laws passed by the National Assembly.

Opposition politicians said a group of 34 members of the high court, including justices and substitutes, were forced to resign or take early retirement this year. That, they said, was done to allow the Socialist Party to replace them before it loses control of Congress in January.

The Socialist Party denied that.

Writing by Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Dan Grebler