Thursday, December 20, 2012

Congress Moves to Consolidate Power

The Honduran Congress is on the way to passing legislation that would give it the power it claimed de facto by firing four Supreme Court judges. Except the new law would allow Congress to remove any high government official, elected or appointed. Even the President.

Call it the legal coup law. Or "the Law of Political Judgement".

Let's recap:

Yesterday the Honduran Congress passed a new law governing police human resources procedures, making the confidence tests on all police both mandatory and permanent.

Last week the Honduran Congress removed 4 Supreme Court Justices for ruling that Decreto 5-2012 and Decreto 89-2012 were unconstitutional.  The first of those modified the law guiding the operation of the police, and the second suspended a number of due process parts of the law guiding police operation for a six month period under an emergency declaration.

The Constitutional Branch of the Supreme Court upheld an appeal of these laws brought by police officers and found both sets of changes unconstitutional.  The Constitutional Branch argued that the specific law for police cleanup, Decreto 89-2012, was unconstitutional for three reasons:  it did not grant the police officers the right to self defense; it took away their right to due process; and the use of a polygraph is proscribed under the Honduran Penal Code. 

Fast forward to yesterday, which Reuters reported simply as Congress passing a new police cleansing law. 

In fact, Congress did a lot more than merely make some kind of confidence tests permanent in the changes they passed.  Congress re-introduced the whole concept of due process, allowing police officers who fail the confidence test to defend themselves in an oral hearing before any decision about dismissal is taken.  The new reformed law accommodates the constitutional requirement of due process and gives the accused the right of self-defense.

Or as two of the five major Honduran papers put it: Congress agreed with the Supreme Court that the law needed to protect the constitutional guarantees of the police officers.

Yet this is precisely the position that Congress just (illegally) fired four justices for defending.

Moving forward: Congressman Augusto Cruz Acensio introduced another bill yesterday that would give Congress the power to do what it already did with the Supreme Court Justices: fire them for doing their job. Cruz Asensio is one of Juan Orlando Hernandez's go to guys for interpreting the constitution (badly!).

Called the Law of Political Judgement (!) it would allow Congress to remove any high government official, elected or appointed, including the President.  The bill would allow Congress to dismiss officials for:  not being qualified for the position under the constitution; physical or mental impairment; not fulfilling the job requirements; incompetence; negligence; favoring someone or arbitrariness; decisions incompatible with the laws of the country; immorality; and finally, actions incompatible with the constitution. 

Whew. I thought we'd never get to treason.

The charges will be considered by a Political Judgement commission appointed by Congress which can summon the individual to testify if it wants to, or ask them for written comments on the charges.

It must, in the very next meeting, deliberate and decide if the charges have merit or not.

Not finding merit will not end the investigation, which may continue and hang over the official for as long as the commission wants.  The commission will report its vote back to Congress. 

In its current form, the bill does not seem to specify what Congress does next.

The new law, if passed, would consolidate Congressional power, following Porfirio Lobo Sosa's maxim that the Legislature rules over the other two branches.

Luckily Congress went on vacation for the holidays, so the law won't be considered for a few days. Maybe by then someone will read the Honduran Constitution.

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