It was always going to be a tricky nomination. Still, Brazilian President Michel Temer could hardly have made a more controversial choice for the vacant seat on the nation's Supreme Court. With anti-corruption investigation Lava Jato ("Car Wash") still very much at the center of national debate, giving the nod to his close ally and own justice minister Alexandre de Moraes was a brazen move.
Since the death of Judge Teori Zavascki in a plane crash last month, the Brazilian president had been facing calls to appoint someone politically independent. By blatantly ignoring those calls, Temer's choice would have a "strong impact" on the investigation's future, one of the lead Lava Jato prosecutors told Folha de S. Paulo.
Temer and Moraes in May 2016 — Photo: Beto Barata /PR
Moraes' appointment is, indeed, revealing of the current state of Brazilian politics. The far-reaching "Car Wash" operation, already responsible — albeit indirectly — for the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff, is threatening to engulf more senior politicians, including some in Temer's current government. And, yes, Temer himself faces serious questions, as reporter Vicente Nunes reports in Correio Braziliense.
Naming someone so close to him "at such a delicate time for the country" is a "provocation," according to Nunes. "The feeling we're all left with is that Moraes was chosen by Temer, himself named in the investigation, to protect his friends from the claws of justice."
The perilous tension between the judicial and executive branches in Brazil comes as another unprecedented dynamic is playing out some 4,000 miles to the north. Even while he was generally praised for his own choice for the U.S. Supreme Court, President Donald Trump has now used Twitter to attack a federal judge for a ruling against the Administration's Muslim travel ban. The skittish leaders of two of the world's largest democracies are reminding us that democracy is only as strong as the controls it places on individual power. That starts and ends with an independent judiciary.