San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Sala IV Justice Discusses Main Challenges

NO one is more familiar with the historyand operations of the ConstitutionalChamber of the Supreme Court (Sala IV)than Luis Fernando Solano, who hasserved as a justice of the chamber since itwas created in 1989 and became its presidentin 2001.He is a graduate of the University ofCosta Rica Law School and a formerGovernment Attorney (1986-89).In a recent interview with The TicoTimes, he spoke about the challengesfacing Sala IV justices and the impact ofthe chamber on the nation it serves.Excerpts:How does the Sala IV compare to constitutionalauthorities in other countries?There’s no other (constitutional) courtin the world with as many pending cases.Possibly the court in Germany, for example,with 80 million citizens, but here inCosta Rica we have only 4 million. We certainlyhave more cases than the U.S.Supreme Court. Their system is very differentfrom ours.No other constitutional court has asmany powers. Countries such as Spain andGermany have eliminated powers, such asthe legislative consult. Introducing the SalaIV in a political procedure is a very delicateprocess. There are lots of risks. Whenthe chamber opines on a law, some (legislators)are content, but others become veryangry. It’s even a burden on the Sala, thistype of power.I believe the role the Sala IV has playedin the strengthening of democracy, thetransparency of authorities and the controlof citizens over political activity has beenfundamental.There’s no branch of law – penal, civil,commercial, labor – where the Sala IV hasn’tincorporated a broad doctrine, andtoday, the law that’s taught in schoolsacross the country is very different fromwhat was taught 20 years ago.The chamber even had a case on theIraq war (last year). Who would think, inthe United States for example, that a citizencould file a suit (with the SupremeCourt) – in this case it was a law student– against the government’s decision tosupport the war in Iraq. Here, that is possible.It often seems that the Sala IV hearscountless appeals and motions of unconstitutionalityregarding the same issue,such as the Permanent Fiscal ReformPackage under discussion in theLegislative Assembly. Is repetition a bigproblem?Yes, there are some repetitions. Somehappen because what the Sala IV tells theLegislative Assembly is not binding,unless we find that the assembly has violatedits regulations, or has violated theConstitution through its procedures.In most cases, the assembly has valuedour initial assessment, but with the Law toPenalize Violence Against Women, forexample, it appears that the legislators aregoing to separate themselves from what theSala established.Anyone can file a motion of unconstitutionalityonce the law is passed, citingthe earlier Sala IV recommendation.How quickly can the justices movethrough decisions?It varies greatly. In the case where theteachers filed 2,580 suits in one day, theSala IV dictated decisions for 200, 300,even 400 suits in a single 3.5-5 hour session.But other motions are not simple.Motions of unconstitutionality have to bevoted individually. Often, they come to thechamber once; they’re discussed; there’sno consensus; they go back to the justice incharge of that motion, and so forth. Wehave one motion of unconstitutionalityfrom 1999 regarding the Law ofBiodiversity that we’ve been discussing fortwo years. We’ll have to vote on it one day,but it’s very different from cases like theteachers’.

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