Spain’s highest court issued a ruling blocking the upper house of parliament from debating and voting on an amendment to the country’s penal code, an unprecedented move that portended potential complications for the leftist coalition ahead of an election year.
After a nine-hour debate, the Constitutional Court accepted an appeal by the main opposition party, the conservative Popular Party, to stop parliamentary approval of a reform on the appointment of judges in some judicial bodies, including the Constitutional Court itself.
The president of the government, the socialist Pedro Sanchezharshly criticized the PP and said that the measure was unprecedented in the 44 years of Spanish democracy or in the European Unionsince it paralyzed the Congress and affected the renewal of the TC, required by the Spanish Constitution.
The Popular Party, he affirmed, intends to “retain by spurious means a power that the citizens have not validated at the polls.”
Sánchez said he understood the indignation of many people over the issue, asked for “serenity” and promised that the government would work to break the blockade with “as many measures as are necessary.”
Critical voices see the PP’s appeal as an attack on the sovereignty of the Cortes and an attempt to avoid losing influence in the court. The Popular Party, for its part, has accused the government of trying to take control of the TC in a surreptitious way by including the reform in a quick package that would have limited the debate on it.
The decision, the first of its kind in four decades of democracy in Spain, could have consequences for future legislative processes and possibly complicate the work of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez, who is running for re-election in 2023.
The Constitutional Court usually accepts appeals to review laws already passed. At this time, he has pending appeals from the PP against several important laws on abortion, euthanasia and education. But he had never intervened in the process before the approval of a regulation.
“We are facing some very serious events, a blow to democracy,” Jaume Asens, parliamentary spokesman for United We Can, the minority partner of the government, said on Tuesday on Televisión Española.
At stake is the perceived political bias of the country’s main judicial bodies, even though on paper they are independent and neutral.
Both the highest court and the General Council of the Judiciary, which oversees judges, have long been considered to be conservative. The renewal of the CGPJ has been stalled for the last four years due to the lack of consensus between the Socialist Party (PSOE) and the PP. Both the government party and the main opposition group, as well as the Parliament participate in the appointment of judges.
The blockade of the Council, in turn, affects the periodic renewal of the judges of the TC, since it elects two of the members of the court. But for the moment, the Council has not agreed on its chosen judges.
That stagnation has kept the two organizations in the hands of conservative majorities.
The two leftist parties in the government decided to approve the judicial reform to unblock the appointment of new members of judicial bodies, but the PP opposed the idea.
In the case of the Constitutional Court, the terms of four of its judges, including its president, expired months ago. Two of them would lose their position if replacements are agreed within the new reform.
The reform was debated and approved by a large majority in the Congress of Deputies, the lower house, and was expected to be easily approved on Thursday in the upper house, the Senate.