Justices on a divided top court traded barbs Wednesday night as they weighed whether former President Luiz Inacio Silva, leading preference polls to return to Brazil’s presidency, should be allowed to put off beginning a 12-year sentence while he appeals a corruption conviction.
The debate at the Supreme Federal Tribunal underscored how fraught and ultimately important their decision could be. Denying da Silva’s petition could all but doom his candidacy and generate protests at a time of high tension in Latin America’s largest nation.
Ten hours into the session, five justices had voted against da Silva and five in his favor. The matter would be decided once six of the 11 members voted for one option or the other. The session was on pace to go into early Thursday, with Chief Justice Carmen Lucia casting the final vote.
Justice Gilmar Mendes, who voted in favor of da Silva’s petition to stay out of jail, challenged his colleagues to buck pressure from society.”If a court bows (to pressure), it might as well not exist,” said Mendes.
Justice Luis Roberto Barroso argued that the integrity of the justice system was at stake.
“A penal system that doesn’t work with minimal effectiveness leads to an instinct for taking justice into one’s own hands,” said Barroso, who voted against the petition.
Justice Rosa Weber, who legal analysts said could be key because there was much doubt about her position on the matter, voted against da Silva.
In one of several brisk exchanges, after Weber’s vote, justice Marco Aurelio Mello accused Lucia of plotting against da Silva’s case. Mello said limiting the vote just to the habeas corpus petition and not the larger question of when a convict should be forced to begin serving a sentence helped sway Weber’s vote.