Venezuela high court bans national congress from investigating judicial appointments

[JURIST] The highest court in Venezuela, the Supreme Tribunal of Justice [official website, in Spanish], on Tuesday ruled that the Venezuelan National Assembly [BBC backgrounder] may not review the appointment of 13 justices to the high court. The 13 justices were sworn in on December 23, immediately prior to the exit of prior Socialist Party majority. The court ruled that the assembly's role is limited to nominating and appointing judges [AP report]. Further, the assembly may only remove or review judges after an investigation into wrongdoing by a two-thirds majority vote. The new assembly marks the first time in 16 years that Venezuela's opposition party has taken control over the national assembly. The election placed 109 opposition members into office for a five-year term, compared to 54 members of the socialist party. Upon overtaking the majority in December, one of its first orders of business was to develop a commission to study the judicial appointments made by the prior assembly. A spokesperson for the opposition called on neighboring countries to activate the Inter-American Democratic Charter [text] because "the actions of the Supreme Court against the National Assembly constitute a judicial coup that is putting Venezuela's democracy at risk."

There has been considerable legislative tension between the pro-government controlled Supreme Tribunal of Justice and the opposition-majority National Assembly of Venezuela following the December election. In February the court upheld [JURIST report] President Nicolás Maduro's "economic emergency decree" as legal and valid despite a rejection by the national assembly. The decree allows the president to control the budget, companies and the currency. In January the court ruled [JURIST report] that all decisions from the opposition-led assembly would be void until three opposition lawmakers were relieved from their seats. The court's decision came days after the assembly swore in elected lawmakers that were temporarily barred [JURIST reports] by the court. The ruling had suspended four elected lawmakers for alleged election fraud in the December elections [JURIST report].

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