Brazil's highest court debates motion to block impeachment

AP News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2016 7:44 PM
Brazil's highest court debates motion to block impeachment

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's top court met Thursday night in an extraordinary session to consider a motion by President Dilma Rousseff to block an upcoming impeachment vote against her, a process that the top legal official in her government blasted as "contaminated."

Justices began their session discussing whether procedures established for Sunday's impeachment vote by Speaker Eduardo Cunha, Rousseff's sworn enemy, were valid.

Initially, Cunha organized the vote for legislators from the industrial and rich south, where the opposition is strongest, to go first. While the justices were meeting, Cunha's lawyer presented a different plan that would alternate between the south and the north, where Rousseff has more support.

Supreme Court justices had not been expected to rule on Thursday, but then Ricardo Lewandowski, the chief justice, said that "exceptional situations require exceptional measures." The session was expected to last well through the night.

The late meeting of 10 justices was the latest development amid weeks of legal wrangling over a process in Congress that has exposed deep divisions in Latin America's largest country.

The lower house's vote on whether to impeach Rousseff is based on allegations that she broke fiscal rules.

Earlier Thursday, Solicitor General Jose Eduardo Cardozo filed the annulment motion to the court. He argued Cunha had presented the impeachment push in such a way that went beyond the actual accusations against Rousseff.

Cardozo made the same claim about the report submitted to the special congressional committee that voted Monday to send the impeachment measure to the full Chamber of Deputies. He said discussion included the overall political crisis, the recession and a sprawling corruption probe at state-run oil company Petrobras.

"We are not talking about the merits of impeachment" but rather the process, Cardozo told reporters in Brasilia.

If the Supreme Court decided to annul the latest procedures, the entire process could be set back several steps. For example, the special commission might be required to consider a revised report on Rousseff.

Political observers interpreted the government's moves as a last-minute final effort to avoid a first major defeat in the process. The pro-impeachment camp needs two-thirds of the 513 votes in the lower house, or 342 votes, to send the proceedings to the Senate for a possible trial. If the Senate takes it up, Rousseff would be forced to step down until the measure was voted on.

Both government and opposition forces say they have enough votes to win on Sunday, but daily counts by Brazilian media suggest the opposition is much closer to victory.