President Alberto Fernández will present his long-trailed judicial reform bill at 4pm on Wednesday from the Casa Rosada, with the bill set to enter Congress via the Senate shortly afterwards.
He will be joined by members of his advisory council, which is now analysing whether to expand the Supreme Court.
The move has already stoked controversy, with some opposition politicians alleging the move is a measure to protect Vice-President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who faces a string of corruption allegations against her in the court dating back to her time leading the nation as president.
According to parliamentary sources, all opposition caucus leaders from both houses of Congress have been invited but until now only Mendoza deputy José Luis Ramón (Unidad y Equidad Federal) has confirmed his participation with the main opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio still studying the invitation.
A statement from the opposition coalition published Tuesday that it opposes the move to expand the membership of the Supreme Court and rejects the proposed reform.
The Juntos por el Cambio coalition said it believes the move “is not a priority for citizens” amid “evident deficiencies in economic, social and security matters." The statement also expressed misgivings over the government’s intentions, suggesting its intention was "to continue prolonging cases, issue annulments, dismissals, or any other judicial resolution that guarantees impunity."
Attempting to explain the motivations behind the proposed reform, former intelligence agency chief and Frente de Todos Senator for Neuquén, Oscar Parrilli, told a local radio station that the changes would create “creating more judges and prosecutors” and “make the judicial branch more horizontal." He also assured that no magistrates would be taken off cases they are already trying.
"While they appointed special judges to try us, [former Transport minister Guillermo] Dietrich is being tried by a natural judge," he pointed out, criticising the Mauricio Macri administration.
One of the most controversial parts of the proposed reform is the inclusion of Carlos Beraldi – Vice-President Cristina
Kirchner’s lawyer in some of the corruption cases she faces – on the committee advising the government on the new structure of the Supreme Court.
Parrilli brushed aside claims that Beraldi’s presence on the commission was inappropriate. "That’s because he’s a professional and highly prestigious lawyer," responded the former spy chief.
Addressing criticism over the possibility of the Senate debating bills not related to the pandemic, he underlined that lawmakers had “approved many laws which have nothing to do with the pandemic" in recent weeks. "Should the president wish to send the abortion reform bill, he may do so," added Parrilli.
According to the veteran politician, Covid-19 "benefits" the opposition because "thanks to the pandemic, we’ve forgotten the scorched earth left by [former president Mauricio] Macri."
Wait and see?
Taking a less severe line, Radical (UCR) party chairman Alfredo Cornejo said that he would have to wait and see the government’s judicial reform bill before issuing a more definite opinion.
He warned however that “this government has an interest in influencing justice … especially corruption cases,” adding that Frente de Todos was “notably keen to halt cases like Hotesur or the cuadernos notebooks" scandal.
Cornejo said the initiative "worried" him since it "comes from Kirchnerismo."
"For now they are just rumours but if anything comes out of them, it’s suspicious," remarked the Radical deputy and former Mendoza governor.
"What has come out is that they are seeking to expand the federal judiciary, which is an old bill of [Strategic Affairs Secretary Gustavo] Beliz, but there’s also talk of removing judges and putting in cronies," he complained in a radio interview.
Asked about President Fernández, he replied: "He takes an ambiguous stance over a lot of issues. We’ve already seen how he changed his opinion on the agreement with Iran. I think he should be judged more by what he does than by what he says. The government also said that it was not going to touch companies but within a week it had ready a bill to expropriate Vicentin."
Cornejo’s outspoken PRO counterpart, Patricia Bullrich, was more forthright and strident in her criticism, declaring that the government was “looking for how they can free Cristina."
Bullrich, the chair of Macri’s party, expressed agreement with increasing the number of Comodoro Py federal judges but aimed her fire at the 11-strong commission evaluating the Supreme Court, saying that expanding it would be a "crime of extreme institutional gravity."
Speaking to Todos Noticias television channel on Tuesday, Bullrich said: "If that commission is chaired by [Fernández de] Kirchner’s lawyer [Carlos Beraldi], what it is doing is applying a magnifying-glass to what needs to be done to free Cristina. A commission to discuss the kind of Supreme Court we want is slanted by how to free Cristina and ceases to be an objective tribunal."
Along these lines she continued: "We were the government and we did not change the members of the [Supreme] Court. The republican ideal is that for a long time we do not change the Court’s numbers – if there are five, we leave five. Kirchnerismo passed from nine to five, saying that nine was a lot and five was ideal. Changing each time you’re in government – which is not our case – demonstrates inconsistency, generating deep republican uncertainty. It’s the same Court which Néstor Kirchner picked when Alberto Fernández was Cabinet chief. We only changed members if they died or turned 75 but not to assemble an à la carte court."
While supporting the idea of more federal judges at the Comodoro Py federal courthouse to try corruption cases, the former security minister said that this was not enough – the justice system needed to be made genuinely democratic.
Bullrich also complained about being called a "drunk" by presidential advisor Leandro Santoro.
"I received no apology and nor was I expecting any because I’m accustomed to being insulted by Kirchnerismo. Politics should be a discussion of ideas and visions, not personalised and discriminatory outlooks which do not contribute,” she said.
“Argentina is transfixed by an ideological question. When a woman is not a Kirchnerite, she’s no woman; when a killer is not a criminal, then they are killers; when you share Macri’s ideas about the country, your ideas are worthless. There is a bid here to construct one single people,” she charged.