Text in which the author defends ideas and reaches conclusions based on his / her interpretation of facts and data

Just can’t help themselves

The government’s latest appointment to Spain’s top court shows plainly a desire to manipulate justice

It appears to have been the prophet Jeremiah who first transferred the concept of sin from the tribe to the individual. Since then it has been the individual person who bears responsibility for what he does. Now it is the prime minister, the justice minister and the outgoing presiding judge of the Constitutional Court who have put their signatures to a document that certifies the barefaced takeover of that court by the political parties. They have imposed the appointment of Enrique López as a Constitutional Court judge, flying in the face of every consideration of prudence and balance.

Imprudent decisions have consequences, and in this case they are important. The appointment of López is not a minor problem, a sordid little anecdote that can be criticized one day and forgotten the next, because it so dramatically belies the government's claim to sincere good intentions in terms of arresting the decline in the prestige of our public institutions.

It was in their power to honor the promise they had made, to work for the recovery of public confidence in our institutions, many of which are seriously undermined. But at the first opportunity, they have done it again. They have learned nothing. They just can't stop doing it. They are not about to change.

The issue, here, is not about attacking López on the grounds of his well-known sympathy for the Popular Party. The problem is that a judge who not only lacks the recognized juridical prestige normally required for sitting on the Constitutional Court, but is also precisely known for his questionable prestige is going to occupy one of the 12 seats on the highest Spanish court, the only one that can overrule the Supreme Court, and interprets our country's most basic law, above the parliament and above plebiscites.

The problem is not Mr López. It is the prestige of the Constitutional Court

The professional credentials and curriculum of Mr López caused six Constitutional Court judges to express doubt as to his suitability and level of juridical specialization; but this was not enough to make the presiding Pascual Sala back down.

At the age of 50, Enrique López has issued a total of 64 rulings, according to data from the National High Court, the only court in which he has functioned as a judge, over four-and-a-half years. Previously, he had been an investigating magistrate in courts of first instance in Coruña, Valladolid and León, and later attorney and spokesman for the General Council of the Judiciary.

Of the 64 rulings he has issued, 28 resulted from bargaining between prosecution and defense. As for the remaining 36, Mr López himself had to dictate additional writs of clarification in more than 10 percent of the cases, to correct grave errors of substance, not mere errata, such as a sentence of imprisonment incompatible with the crime in question. It is known, too, that the Supreme Court has subsequently corrected a fair percentage of the sentences he has pronounced.

It might be argued that, while Mr López has little juridical experience, his prestige is grounded on his teaching work. But his teaching record is easy to sum up: professor of trial law at the Faculty of Law in Valladolid, 1990-91; professor of penal law at the University of León, 1996-98; and professor of penal law at the European University of Madrid. As for his publications, they are a mixed bag: frequent participation in radio talk shows, and a number of articles in the press. His most-noticed article in juridical circles was one published in June of 2010, titled La justicia de los toros (The justice of the bulls) in which the author postulates (that seems to be the right word) a parallel between the bullfight and judicial proceedings.

The problem is not Mr López. It is the prestige of the Constitutional Court, its efficacy and its future. And the bitterness, sorrow and disgust one feels at seeing one of our country's chief institutions thus abused and debilitated.

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