Supreme Federal Court
|Supreme Federal Court|
|Supremo Tribunal Federal|
The Supreme Federal Court at the Praça dos Três Poderes
|Composition method||Presidential nomination with Senate confirmation|
|Authorized by||Constitution of Brazil|
|Number of positions||11|
|Since||November 22, 2012 1|
|Lead position ends||November 22, 2014 2|
|Jurist term ends||October 7, 2024|
|This article is part of the series:
Politics and government of
The Supreme Federal Court (Portuguese: Supremo Tribunal Federal, [suˈpɾẽmu tɾibuˈnaw fedeˈɾaw], also known as STF, IPA: [ˌɛsiteˈɛfi]) is the supreme court (court of last resort) of Brazil, serving primarily as the Constitutional Court of the country. It is the highest court of law in Brazil for constitutional issues and its rulings cannot be appealed. On questions involving exclusively lower legislation, the highest court is, by rule, the Superior Court of Justice.
Alongside its appeal competence, mostly by the Extraordinary Appeal (Recurso Extraordinário), the Court has a small range of cases of original jurisdiction, including the power of judicial review, judging the constitutionality of laws passed by the National Congress, through a Direct Action of Unconstitutionality (Ação Direta de Inconstitucionalidade, or ADIn).
The eleven judges of the court are called Ministers (Ministro), although having no similarity with the government body of ministers. They are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate. There is a mandatory retirement age of 70.
All judicial and administrative meetings of the Supreme Court have been broadcast live on television since 2002. The Court is open for the public to watch the meetings.
In May 2009 The Economist called the Supreme Federal Court "the most overburdened court in the world, thanks to a plethora of rights and privileges entrenched in the country's 1988 constitution (...) till recently the tribunal's decisions did not bind lower courts. The result was a court that is overstretched to the point of mutiny. The Supreme Court received 100,781 cases last year."3
The court was inaugurated during the colonial era in 1808, the year that the royal family of Portugal (the House of Braganza) arrived in Rio de Janeiro. It was originally called the House of Appeals of Brazil (Casa de Suplicação do Brasil).
The proclamation of the Brazilian Declaration of Independence and the adoption of the Imperial Constitution in 1824 preceded the establishment of the Supreme Court of Justice (Supremo Tribunal de Justiça) in 1829. With the first Constitution of the Republic, the current Court was established.
Although the constitutional norms that regulated the creation of the Court allowed Deodoro da Fonseca, Brazil's first president, to nominate an entirely new Court, the president chose to nominate as the first members of the Supreme Federal Court the ministers who were then serving as members of the predecessor imperial Court.
Two hundred members have served on the Court. The Constitution of 1891 decided that the Court would have 15 members. When Getúlio Vargas came into power, the number of members was reduced to 11. The number was changed to 16 in 1965, but returned to 11 in 1969 and has not changed since. Of all Presidents of Brazil, only one (Café Filho) never nominated a minister.
Re-election for a consecutive term is not allowed. By tradition, the members of the Court always elect as president the most senior minister of the Court that has not yet served as President, to avoid politicization of the Court. Therefore, it is known beforehand that the next Presidents of the Court, after Joaquim Barbosa, will be, in order, Ricardo Lewandowski and Carmen Lúcia.
If all members currently sitting on the Court have already served as president, the rotation starts all over again; however, due to the existence of a compulsory retirement age, and the consequent appointment of new ministers to fill those vacancies, it is very rare for the cycle to be completed and restarted, and some ministers are forced to retire before their turn in the presidency arrives, as expected to happen with Rosa Weber and Teori Zavascki.
According to the same convention, the Court selects as vice-president for a certain term the minister who, according to that tradition, will be selected president in the succeeding term. Also by tradition, the elections of the president and vice-president are never unanimous, there being always one isolated minority vote in each election, as the ministers who are to be elected never cast their votes for themselves; such votes are cast either for the Dean of the Court – its most senior member – or for some other elder minister that the one to be elected admires and wants to pay homage to.
The Chief Justice is also the 4th in the Presidential Succession Line, when the President of Brazil becomes prevented to be in charge, being preceded by the Vice-President, the President of the Chamber of Deputies, and the President of the Federal Senate, as provided in Article 80 of the Brazilian Constitution.4
|Name||Birth||Appointed by||First day||Mandatory retirement|
|November 1, 1945
in Tatuí, São Paulo
|José Sarney||August 17, 1989
(serving for 23 years, 9 months)
|November 1, 2015|
|July 12, 1946
in Rio de Janeiro
|Fernando Collor de Mello||June 13, 1990
(serving for 22 years, 11 months)
|July 12, 2016|
|December 30, 1955
in Diamantino, Mato Grosso
|Fernando Henrique Cardoso||June 20, 2002
(serving for 10 years, 11 months)
|December 30, 2025|
Joaquim Barbosa (President of the Court)
|October 7, 1954
in Paracatu, Minas Gerais
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva||June 25, 2003
(serving for 9 years, 10 months)
|October 7, 2024|
|May 11, 1948
in Rio de Janeiro
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva||March 16, 2006
(serving for 7 years, 2 months)
|May 11, 2018|
|April 19, 1954
in Montes Claros, Minas Gerais
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva||June 21, 2006
(serving for 6 years, 11 months)
|April 19, 2024|
|November 15, 1967
in Marília, São Paulo
|Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva||October 23, 2009
(serving for 3 years, 7 months)
|November 15, 2037|
|April 26, 1953
in Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro
|Dilma Rousseff||March 3, 2011
(serving for 2 years, 2 months)
|April 26, 2023|
|October 2, 1948
in Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul
|Dilma Rousseff||December 19, 2011
(serving for 1 year, 5 months)
|October 2, 2018|
|August 15, 1948
in Faxinal dos Guedes, Santa Catarina
|Dilma Rousseff||November 29, 2012
(serving for 5 months)
|August 15, 2018|
The Public Defender-General, José Rômulo Plácido Sales is the public defender in Supreme Court cases, and chief of federal public defenders.
- O Estado de S. Paulo, November 23, 2012, p. A4
- STF webpage (in Portuguese). Retrieved November 25, 2012.
- "Brazil's supreme court: When less is more". The Economist. May 21, 2009.
- Brazilian Constitution (in Portuguese)
- STJ Webpage (in Portuguese). Retrieved November 9, 2012
- STF webpage (in Portuguese). Retrieved December 1st, 2012
- STF website (in Portuguese). Retrieved November 25, 2012.
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