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Argentina: Reconsider Supreme Court Nominations

Argentina: Reconsider Supreme Court Nominations

(Washington, DC) – Argentina’s President Javier Milei should reconsider his nominations to the Supreme Court to take qualifications, experience, diversity and integrity into consideration, Human Rights Watch said today. On April 15, 2024, President Milei nominated Ariel Lijo, a federal judge, and Manuel García-Mansilla, a scholar, to the Supreme Court. Several rights groups, citizens, business associations, and scholars have formally expressed concern over the nominations, particularly regarding Lijo’s record as a federal judge. In addition, if the nominations are confirmed, there would be no women on the five-member court. Supreme Court nominations must be approved by a vote of two-thirds of the Senate. “Argentina needs to strengthen judicial independence, the rule of law, and efforts to combat corruption,” said Juanita Goebertus, Americas director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should carefully consider the concerns raised about Judge Lijo and ensure that all nominees to the Supreme Court have the highest integrity and qualifications.” The Supreme Court has been functioning with only four members since 2021, when justice Elena Highton de Nolasco resigned.

The current members are facing a politically motivated impeachment process in Congress initiated in 2023 by former President Alberto Fernández (2019-2023). Under the Constitution, Supreme Court judges need to be reappointed to continue in their posts once they turn 75, although some judges have questioned the constitutionality of this provision. Justice Juan Carlos Maqueda will turn 75 in December and has said he will retire.

The Milei administration has made clear that the president does not intend to reappoint him. Lijo currently has three pending disciplinary investigations in the Council of the Judiciary, the body charged with investigating and removing federal judges. He has faced 29 other disciplinary proceedings that were closed, including 16 in limine, meaning without any analysis, according to a study by the human rights group Asociación Civil por la Igualdad y la Justicia (ACIJ). Some proceedings were based on allegations that Lijo delayed, and otherwise manipulated, investigations into corruption. A 2016 report by a lawyers’ association found seemingly “anomalous” delays, at times of over a decade, in at least 28 corruption investigations handled by Lijo’s court. Lijo and his brother Alfredo, who admitted to lobbying judges, were also criminally investigated for “money laundering” and “bribes,” among other crimes. In 2021, a federal judge closed the investigation against them, in a decision that Argentine legal experts have described as “controversial.” According to media reports, the judge failed to analyze a report by Argentina’s financial investigation unit, detailing possible evidence of suspicious financial transactions. Several Argentine human rights organizations, associations of lawyers, and business unions have expressed concern about Judge Lijo’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Some fear that senators from across the political spectrum might seek to trade a vote for Lijo in exchange for having him use his position in the Supreme Court and his influence in the federal court system to close corruption investigations against people close to the senators, including former government officials.

The nomination of two men for the vacancies is also contrary to a 2003 presidential decree calling on authorities to consider “gender diversity” in the selection process. Under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which Argentina has ratified, governments must “take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in [...] political and public life.” According to a study by the Economic Commission for Latin America (ECLAC), with data from December 2021, Argentina’s Supreme Court was the only high court in Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Iberian Peninsula without any women on its bench. “Having an all-male Supreme Court sends a troubling message to Argentina’s many highly qualified women lawyers and scholars about their ability to serve in prominent roles in the judiciary,” Goebertus said.

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