The Brazilian Congress launched impeachment proceedings against president Dilma Rousseff who is accused of manipulating government finances to get re-elected last year. The petition accepted by the Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, was filed by several jurists, including Helio Bicudo, one of the PT's founders.
The accusations against Rousseff are unrelated to the corruption scandal, which has uncovered a complex multi-billion-dollar corruption scheme at state-owned oil company Petrobras and led to the arrests of top business and political leaders, but has not implicated the president directly.
Rousseff, however, has seen her popularity drop precipitously since being narrowly reelected last year. The Petrobras scandal has taken down members of her party, and the country has entered its worst recession in decades.
According to Datafolha poll only 10% of respondents characterized Rousseff's government as “good,” while 22% called it “regular,” and 67% considered it “bad or terrible.” Definitively this is not the best scenario to face the impeachment.
In Brazilian constitutional law, the expression “crime of responsibility” corresponds to political-administrative violations not subject to penalties of a criminal nature. On committing “crimes of responsibility”, the public agent violates the duties inherent to his public position or function.
In Brazil, impeachment is defined in the Federal Constitution and in Ordinary Law no. 1,079, dated 04.10.50. These instruments grant the Federal Senate exclusive authority to judge the President and Vice President of the Republic for crimes of responsibility, as well as Ministers of State for crimes of the same nature connected to those said to have been committed by the President or Vice President, and the minsters of the Federal Supreme Court, Attorney General of the Republic and the Chief Federal Legal Advisor.
The Brazilian Senate is composed of 81 members or three from each state and the Federal District and their tenure in office is eight years. Every four years, the representation of each State and the Federal District is renewed alternately by one third and two thirds of the members.
Governors, mayors and the members of municipal councils are also subject to impeachment for crimes of responsibility. However, these trials are not held before the Federal Senate.
The Governors of the States and Federal District are judged by their respective Assemblies or as determined in the state constitutions. Normally, once the required authorization has been granted by the Assembly or Legislative Chamber, Governors are judged by a mixed tribunal composed of 5 State Deputies and 5 Senior Judges, with the Senior Judge who holds the position of President of the Court of Justice of the State or Federal District as the presiding judge. The members of the court of impeachment are chosen as follows: the representatives of the legislature are elected by the full Assembly or chamber, while those from the judiciary are chosen by lot.
Mayors and Councilpersons are judged by the Municipal Legislative Chambers, according to the terms of Decree Law no.201, dated February 27, 1967. In these cases, there is a basic difference that deserves mention. When judging mayors and councilpersons, the powers of the respective legislative councils are restricted to removal from office and do not include loos of political rights or ineligibility for public office. However, article 1, line “b” of Complementary Law 64/90, states that office-holders who have been found guilty are ineligible for election during the remaining period of the mandate for which that person was originally elected and in the three-year period subsequent to the end of that legislature.
If there is no consistent connection or link between the crime of responsibility practiced by the President or Vice President and the crime practiced by a Minister of State, the latter will be judged by the Federal Supreme Court, the highest court of the judicial system, and not by the Federal Senate. Consequently, one concludes that crimes of responsibility committed exclusively by Ministers of State will always be judged by the Supreme Court and nobody else.
Now that I explain how the process begins, next article I will analyze how that the Process of Impeachment of a Brazilian president should works before the Brazilian Federal Senate. As I write this article many political parties are trying to change the rite at the Supreme Court to accommodate their interests.
Let’s talk about that next!