Quintana Coello v. Ecuador

Case of the Supreme Court of Justice, Judgment of August 23, 2013 (2013)

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Quintana Coello v. Ecuador

Inter-American Court of Human Rights
Case of the Supreme Court of Justice, Judgment of August 23, 2013 (2013)

Facts

In 1997, the Ecuadorian National Congress enacted constitutional amendments that established a procedure for appointing judges to Ecuador’s Supreme Court of Justice. Under the amendments, Supreme Court judges would have indefinite tenure, and any vacancies on the court would be filled by a new judge appointed and approved by at least a two-thirds majority of sitting judges. The National Congress also enacted transitory provisions that gave the congress the one-time authority to appoint 31 judges to the Supreme Court before the constitutional amendments took effect. In November 2004, after the constitutional procedure was in place, opposition political parties in the National Congress began preparing to impeach Ecuador’s then-president, Lucio Gutiérrez. To prevent the impeachment, Gutiérrez’s administration made deals with the political parties under which sitting Supreme Court judges would be dismissed, and a new court would be appointed. Despite public protests against the government for acting unconstitutionally and violating the rule of law, the National Congress dismissed 27 Supreme Court judges and installed a new Supreme Court. The new court made politically significant decisions immediately, including annulling criminal proceedings against high-ranking government officials. Roughly three months later, Gutiérrez issued an executive decree dismissing the newly installed Supreme Court on the grounds that the dismissal of the previous judges was still causing severe public unrest. The National Congress annulled the appointment of the new judges but did not reinstate the dismissed judges. The violence and unrest persisted, and the National Congress removed Gutiérrez from office in late April 2005. The National Congress then adopted an amendment to the Organic Law of the Judicial Branch, which established a new procedure and a Qualifying Committee for assessing and appointing judges to the Supreme Court. Ecuador remained without a Supreme Court for approximately seven months during the transition to the new procedure. The dismissed judges, including Hugo Quintana Coello (collectively, the judges) (plaintiffs), brought an action against the Ecuadorian government (defendant) in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, challenging the judges’ dismissal as arbitrary and without due process.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Per curiam)

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