The General Council of the Judiciary (CGPJ), whose mandate has expired since December 2018, has agreed by the minimum to appoint a magistrate of the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court to Antonio García Martínez, exporter of the conservative and majority Professional Association of the Magistracy (APM) and whose current destination was in the Superior Court of Justice of the Basque Country. The magistrate has obtained the support of 13 of the 21 members of the plenary, including that of the president, Carlos Lesmes. It is the minimum required support since appointments to the High Court require a three-fifths majority. That is, of at least 13 members.
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The plenary session has come completely divided to this vote, in which there has been no consensus to adjudicate the other two places in contention in the High Court, in the First Chamber, of the Civil and in the Fourth Chamber, of the Social. In fact, both proposals for appointments have been removed from the agenda, according to sources from the CGPJ. Appointments to the Supreme Court are considered especially sensitive because these positions, except for resignation, are maintained until retirement, set for judges and magistrates at 72 years of age.
Although very fractured, the governing body of the judges, with the support of Lesmes, has awarded the other five pending positions in territorial courts. By 13 votes, and in a second vote, the plenary session has awarded the presidencies of the Superior Courts of Justice of the Basque Country and the Canary Islands, where justices José Subijana Zunzunegui and Juan Luis Lorenzo Bragado, respectively, have been appointed.
On the other hand, the presidency of the Social Chamber of the Supreme Court of the Basque Country has been renewed, where Garbiñe Biurrun has been re-elected by 12 votes; the presidency of the Provincial Court of Salamanca, for which José Antonio Vega Bravo has been appointed, with 14 votes; and the presidency of the Provincial Court of Almería, with the appointment of Luis Miguel Columna with 13 votes. These mandates last for five years and require 11 out of 21 votes for approval. That is to say, simple majority.
Conservatives Juan Martínez Moya and Juan Manuel Fernández, who on this occasion have joined the five progressive members – Álvaro Cuesta, Clara Martínez de Careaga, Rafael Mozo, Concepción Sáez and Pilar Sepúlveda – who have been voting in white in the last appointments considering that appointments should not continue in this situation. CGPJ members from both sectors understand that designations with expired terms only make sense if they are endorsed by very large majorities, something that has occurred on this occasion.
Last Thursday, the members agreed by assent to postpone the appointments for a week while the parties negotiated the renewal of the organ. So, it was taken for granted that at this point that agreement would be official and, at that juncture, the majority option would have been to leave the new appointments in the hands of their successors. The scene changed after the breakdown of the negotiations, but this has not caused the large majorities with which appointments have been approved in recent months.
The appointment of judges to the judicial leadership is one of the key tasks of the CGPJ. Precisely this issue has been one of the points of confrontation with the Executive, since the governing body of the judges has carried out up to 74 discretionary appointments with expired term and with a conservative majority composition inherited from the stage in which the PP ruled with an absolute majority.
These appointments could be the last before the approval of the reform that aims to limit the powers of the CGPJ with the extended mandate and that has raised the tension between both powers of the State. The governing body of the judges, with the backing of 16 of its 21 members, accused PSOE and United We Can of breaking the “separation of powers” by expressly taking away powers and both parties – through the Congressional Board, where they have a majority— they responded by asking for “respect” for their ability to legislate. This reform is expected to be approved by Congress on March 11, although the final vote in the Senate would be lacking.