Appointed two months ago by President Jair Bolsonaro to the Federal Supreme Court (STF), former Federal Attorney General André Mendonça is going through the most difficult time to get his name approved in the Senate. Amid the intensification of friction between the powers, a larger group of senators began to reject him and, to make matters worse, he practically does not count on the help of government officials in the House, who have other political priorities.
Mendonça started talking to senators long before his appointment. In April, he received the green light from Bolsonaro to begin his tour of cabinets to introduce himself and try to win the sympathy of senators. Since then, however, the president’s conflict with the STF ended up harming his campaign. He, who was no longer the favorite of a good part of the congressmen – including in the Chamber, whose president, Arthur Lira (PP-AL), also has an influence on the approval -, began to have his nomination boycotted as a form of political retaliation against Bolsonaro.
This became evident in August, when the president of the Committee on Constitution and Justice (CCJ), Davi Alcolumbre (DEM-AP), who is the one who sets the date for the hearing, decided to leave it open, after Bolsonaro submitted a request for impeachment against Alexandre de Moraes. Even after the complaint was rejected by the president of the Senate, Rodrigo Pacheco (DEM-MG), neither of the two moved to schedule the session. The same happened after Bolsonaro’s move to pacify the relationship with the STF, through the “Letter to the Nation”, written with former president Michel Temer, in defense of harmony between the powers.
Behind the scenes, Mendonça has basically received support from senator Eduardo Gomes (MDB-TO), deputy government leader in the Senate, who made his office available to facilitate contacts with other senators. Flávio Bolsonaro (Patriota-RJ), who has influence in the nomination of nominees for the Judiciary, preferred the president of the Superior Court of Justice (STJ), Humberto Martins. Many senators hope that son “01” will convince Bolsonaro to change Mendonça for another nominee.
In this case, the biggest cheering is for the Attorney General of the Republic, Augusto Aras, even after his approval to exercise one more term in the PGR. Even before Mendonça was nominated, he was already the favorite of Alcolumbre and several other senators from the Centrão. His hearing in August only consolidated this predilection, because he made a point of highlighting that he kept his promise not to “criminalize politics”, which sounds like music to the senators – in practice, a euphemism to justify the measures that deflated the confronting corruption along the lines of Operation Lava Jato.
What weighs against André Mendonça
Resistance to Mendonça in the political world stems from the suspicion that, within the STF, he could act, albeit in a limited way, against the guaranteeist movement that, in the last two years, has become the majority and has led to the waning of several investigations, accusations and lawsuits against powerful that were targeted by the operation.
The past contributes to this fear, since, within the Federal Attorney General (AGU) and the Federal Comptroller General (CGU), Mendonça acted directly in the leniency agreements of the companies involved in various corruption schemes that harmed the Petrobras, other state-owned companies and public bodies. In that role, he had a broad view of the whole plot of embezzlement and bribe payments.
Fighting corruption is a theme dear to Mendonça, having been the subject of his academic master’s and doctoral studies in Spain. Lawyers linked to senators who read the dissertation and thesis told them that, in the Supreme Court, Mendonça tends to be a “punitivist” minister.
If he really takes this stance, the investigated parliamentarians see the risk of a possible upheaval in inquiries that are heading towards shelving. The fear is that Mendonça will form a majority with other ministers who are stricter in the application of criminal law, such as Edson Fachin, Luís Roberto Barroso and Luiz Fux, and with some who, depending on the case, also weigh in against those investigated, such as Alexandre de Moraes and Carmen Lucia.
“The Senate has never been as concerned about the choice of a minister as it is now. It is more interested than usual. André Mendonça will define which way the boat will go, whether the STF will be a guaranteeist or punitive,” he told the People’s Gazette a jurist and frequent interlocutor of the senators who deal with the nomination. “Many say he will be the Fachin of Bolsonaro,” he added, echoing a speech that has become commonplace in the Senate.
Fachin was chosen by former president Dilma Roussef for the STF, but after becoming the reporter for the Lava Jato, he became a nightmare for PT members and the entire political class, almost always voting in favor of convictions.
Another factor that weighs against Mendonça is the proximity to Bolsonaro, at a time when the president is politically fragile in Brasília. For many senators, this was the decisive criterion for their nomination. Being evangelical only added one more advantage, to please some of the president’s electorate. Even so, among the most influential pastors, almost all from Pentecostal churches, the Presbyterian Mendonça was also not preferred.
“A Presbyterian is usually a great evangelical, but he is not a ‘terribly’ evangelical. He is not the most embattled guy, who most supports the president, which is the Pentecostal, who is more talkative and media-friendly. Mendonça was quite unknown to the evangelical public. “, affirmed to the report a deep expert in this medium.
What weighs in his favor
On the other hand, Bolsonaro’s resistance to changing the nomination is in favor of Mendonça, which would be an evident sign of political weakness in the articulation with the Legislative. An eventual replacement would also compromise the very electoral support that the president has cultivated among Pentecostal leaders who support him, given his promise to nominate a “terribly evangelical”. Favorites of senators, Catholic Augusto Aras and Adventist Humberto Martins, presented as plan B, do not fit this profile.
The preference of the STF ministers themselves is also in favor of Mendonça. If they could choose, most would opt for him, instead of Aras and Martins, considered too close to the political universe. Several of them would like other names, but among the available alternatives, the former attorney general enjoys more sympathy, including the good dialogue he maintained with all the ministers while defending the government with the STF.
Some of the ministers are also uncomfortable with the political boycott of the hearing, because this affects the functioning of the court. The new minister will inherit 1,134 processes from Marco Aurélio Mello, who have been practically stopped since his retirement in July. The new ones that arrive at the Court are distributed to other cabinets, increasing the burden on the other ministers.
The opinion among this group of ministers who was most troubled is that the Senate should schedule the hearing and vote on the nomination in the plenary. Resistance, in this case, must be expressed in an eventual rejection by André Mendonça, and not in the boycott of the nomination itself.