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About the Court Print


The Pleading House 

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With the arrival of the Portuguese Royal Family in Brazil – after Napoleon’s troops had successfully invaded the Iberian Peninsula, they installed themselves in Brazil (at that time Brazil was just an overseas Portuguese colony) –, some extremely relevant facts to the country took place, as the creation – through a Royal Permit issued in May 10th, 1808, granted by the Prince Regent Dom João – of the first summit organ of Brazilian Justice, upgrading the Court of Appeal in Rio de Janeiro to the condition of Pleading House, wich was located at Lavradio with Relação Street, in Rio de Janeiro.

In the Royal Decree which installed the Pleading House in Brazil, it was conveyed that the mentioned body would definitely decide all judicial matters: “all pleads will be decided in last instance, no matter their value, without any further appeal from any of the (…)”

The Chief Justice of the highest Court in the Reign was the Regent, and, in his absence, the Chancellor. The first Regent of the Brazilian Pleading House was Francisco de Assis Mascarenhas, who had all the requirements described in the Reign Ordinance: “a man of certain rank, of clean blood, of sane conscience, prudent and of great authority, and literate. He must, likewise, be our national, in order to, as virtuous and loyal, be in service of our person and State.” The first Brazilian to become Regent was João Ignácio da Cunha (Baron and later Viscount of Alcântara), vested in October 26th 1824, during the Empire Period, when Brazil had already become independent from Portugal. The Brazilian Pleading House was extinct in 1828, but operated until 1833, when the Court of Appeal in Rio de Janeiro returned to its original function as a local Court.

Royal Decree from May 10th,1808, from Regent Prince D. João


The Supreme Court of Justice


 Building of the Senate of the Chamber of Rio de Janeiro, where the Supreme Court of Justice was temporarily installed as decided in a session in January 9th, 1829. Placed in Praça da Aclamação, it is also called Campo de Santana and, nowadays, Praça da República.

The Supreme Court of Justice followed the Pleading House as the Summit Organ of the Brazilian Judicial Power. It was created by the Imperial Constitution of 1824, article 163, and organized by the Imperial Law of September 18th, 1828. It was installed in January 9th, 1829. The organ was composed by seventeen justices, pertaining to the former Court of Appeal, according to their seniority. It operated, temporarily, in “the House of the illustrious Senate of the Chamber”, being its first Chief Justice the Justice José Albano Fragoso. The Chief Justice was chosen by the Emperor and had the mandate of three years. The Supreme Court of Justice operated until October 11th, 1890, the same date of the Decree 848, which, organizing Federal Justice, changed its name to Supreme Federal Court, which was kept by the Constitution of 1891.

Justice Albino de Oliveira wearing the robe, common for magistrates at the time. He presided the Supreme Court of Justice from 1880 to 1882


Brazilian Federal Supreme Court


The Brazilian Federal Supreme Court (STF) succeeded the Supreme Court of Justice. The Decree 848, from October 11th, 1890, edited by the Temporary Republic Government, ruled its organization and made it the Summit Organ of the Brazilian Justice. Under the Republican Constitution of 1891, the Supreme Court was installed in February 28th, 1891, date of its first Plenary session, which was presided by Justice Sayão Lobato, who, until then, was the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Justice. In the same session, the Supreme Federal Court elected its first Chief Justice, Freitas Henriques.

Composed of fifteen Justices, the majority of them from the Supreme Court of Justice, the Federal Supreme Court was born with express powers to declare the unconstitutionality of laws, a role formerly played by the Legislative Power, what qualified the new Organ as the guard of the Constitution, inaugurating the history of judicial control of constitutionality of laws in Brazil.

When it comes to the history of the Supreme Federal Court, it is important to notice that the Court, throughout its existence, suffered moments of severe tension, conflict and oppression, despite the fact that it was and still is the summit organ of the Brazilian Judiciary Power. In the most critical circumstances, like those of state of siege and suspension of constitutional guarantees, several events echoed in the Supreme Court, which, despite its impeccable image, experienced tribulations that limited its competence and altered its composition.

In certain periods of the Republic, Chiefs of the Executive Power sought to interfere in the Supreme Federal Court, incisively at times. In those scenaries the Court was submitted to a situation of extreme discomfort and vulnerability. However, since its installation, the Court strived to perform its official duties, never being subjugated by the unceasing power of the Presidents of the Republic. The Country’s Highest Court went on with the same importance, playing its foremost role of constitutional guarantees keeper.

It is relevant to point out, in the context of the republican history, the Presidency of Marshall Floriano Peixoto, which, took office without invoking new elections, went against the Constitution of 1891 and adopted centralizing policies designed to strengthen the Executive Power. During his government, he declared the state of siege, suspended constitutional guarantees and nominated five Justices for the Supreme Federal Court, who did not obtained the approval of the Senate. These Justices were: Generals Innocencio Galvão de Queiroz and Ewerton Quadros, the physician Barata Ribeiro and the citizens Antonio Seve Navarro and Demosthenes da Silveira Lobo, all, according to the President, “of notable knowledge”, as demanded by the Constitution of 1891. The Federal Senate, however, declared that the notable knowledge required by the Constitution referred to legal knowledge and to knowledge of the matters concerning the Supreme Federal Court. Despite that, the physician Barata Ribeiro was Justice for almost a year, until the Senate rejected its nomination.

New vacancies for the post of Justice of the Federal Supreme Court resulted from the death or the retirement of some Justices, but the rejection of the nominees indicated by Marshall Deodoro da Fonseca disabled the Court to function for a few months, due to the failure to reach the minimum legal number of Justices.

It is necessary to acknowledge – and highlight – in the period of the First Republic, the importance and prominence of Rui Barbosa, who defended the recognition and the greatness of the Supreme Federal Court as the guard and ultimate interpreter of the Constitution. Thus, being the very image of the great patron for the causes of Justice, Rui Barbosa filed several writs of habeas corpus in the Supreme Court which revolutionized the competence of the Major Court.

In memorable causes, Rui Barbosa awoke, in the Supreme Federal Court, the awareness of the power to reach the potential of its high functions. He raised, in the Supreme Court, the exact perception of the supremacy and of the high position it should take up in the institutional structure of the country. Furthermore, he strongly encouraged the Court to reach the magnitude granted by the Constitution. Since then the Supreme Court has been able to perform that high mission, exerting, in a continuous and permanent process, its independence and its social, political and juridical-constitutional responsibilities.

The end of the government of Floriano Peixoto did not change the tensions that the Supreme Federal Court would face throughout the Republican period.

At the end of 1910, under the Presidency of the Republic of Marshall Hermes da Fonseca, the Supreme Federal Court faced, once again, what later would become a habit: the disobedience, by the Executive Power, of several decisions proclaimed by the Supreme Court. For instance, the disobedience to the decision made in the Habeas Corpus 2.984, which had allowed the petitioners – state deputies – to move freely and to enter the place where functioned the Legislative Assembly of Rio de Janeiro.

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