Wednesday, June 13, 2007

La Corte Suprema

This morning I met the President of the Supreme Court of Argentina (like the Chief Justice), Ricardo Lorenzetti. Somehow, by virtue of being Harvard Law students, we get to meet these powerful governmental actors that want to talk to us, even though we don't actually know that much about, you know, the law. But whatever, yay Harvard. Oh yeah, and the Yale Law kids got to come too.

Here's how the morning unfolded. Ariella and I got up and put on our power suits, which also meant that I put my hair into a "conservative" style and forced my feet into my killer pointy-toe stilettos, because I suppose meeting the President of the Supreme Court warrants a little pain on my part. We went to eat breakfast and use the wifi connection at Bar Seis, a chic cafe near our house, because we wanted to look at Lorenzetti's CV before meeting him. It was 52 pages long so I skimmed. We ordered breakfast -- for me, the "desayuno americano," which for about USD $3 included several huge, thick slices of toast with jam, marmelade and creamy cheese, fruit salad (with a minimum of gross melon, bonus), scrambled eggs, and a cafe cortado doble. Ariella got the "desayuno porteno" which also had toast, plus little sandwiches with jamon y queso, cafe con leche, and orange juice. Can I just reiterate that this cost USD $3? Okay.

After breakfast we went to the Corte Suprema and stood around in our suits for a while, waiting for the Ministro to show. He eventually did, and received us in the room where the justices meet with ambassadors and other important visitors, and apparently, rising second year law students from Harvard and Yale. We all sat up very straight and smiled politely, and were given the opportunity to ask Lorenzetti some questions. The first few questions were sort of mild ones about the precedent system in Argentina (a better question -- WHAT precedent system?) and the reform of the Court, and stuff like that, but Ariella asked the Ministro if he could change one thing about the judicial system so that people would have more faith in the Court, what would he do. The Ministro got a little defensive and started talking about how the Argentine people have great respect for the Court, especially in the area of human rights, since the Court had prosecuted the former junta leaders, and after the 2001 crisis, everyone went to the courts, which shows the immense faith people have in the judicial system. Riiight. He didn't mention that many of these people are still waiting for their cases to be processed, and that most people accept that at a minimum, they'll be in court for a decade and will end up empty-handed. Pero bueno.

As students of human rights working at NGOs in Argentina, we all realize that Lorenzetti's view is completely disconnected from the reality of what most people in Argentina really think about the judicial system. The court system is seen as corrupt, bureaucratic and overloaded, and judges who take independent positions or defend human rights in their decisions are frequently removed from their posts. I wonder if Lorenzetti is aware of this reality or whether he's actually insulated from this type of criticism just by virtue of his post as President of the Corte Suprema? Something to ponder.

After the Q&A, we got a little tour of some of the other rooms, all of which were decorated with the obligatory oil portraits of former ministros, and, of course, Christ on the Cross. The actual room where the Ministros sit when announcing their decisions has 9 large wooden chairs (even though there are only 7 judges, and soon to be 5), and a huge crucifix hanging directly overhead. As an American, it's rather shocking to walk into a government building, especially the rooms where the Supreme Court deliberates and announces its decisions, and see Jesus front and center. Welcome to Latin America!

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