Responses to the Coup d'etat in Honduras on Sunday June 28, with special emphasis on producing English-language versions of commentaries by Honduran scholars and editorial writers and addressing the confusion encouraged by lack of basic knowledge about Honduras.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

US Congressional Research Service missed crucial Honduran Supreme Court Ruling...

Armando Sarmiento, former director of the Honduran equivalent of the IRS, provides on a critical and devastating critique of the CRS report discussed in our previous blog posting making two points, the first fatal for the shocking attempt to justify the coup:
  • The Supreme Court of Honduras declared it UNCONSTITUTIONAL for the National Congress to interpret the constitution in the verdict issued on May 7, 2003. As such, there exists no legal basis to assert that Congress can interpret the constitution, indirectly constituting a basis for a political verdict permitting the removal of the head of state.
[Note correction: the original blog post at had the year as 2009]

This post saves me belaboring the point: the amendments to the Honduran Constitution-- proposed, passed, and ratified by the Honduras Congress-- that gave the Congress the right to interpret the Constitution itself-- as opposed to the laws passed by the Congress, as called for in the original 1982 Constitution-- eroded the separation of powers, and usurped the authority of the Supreme Court itself to interpret the Constitution. I am glad to see that the Honduran Supreme Court agreed with me this in May 2003-- even longer before the events of June 28, and also, before the now entirely discredited "research report".

Sr. Sarmiento also anticipates a second point we have been actively researching, and confirms another understanding we had about legal process in Honduras, writing:
  • In any case, if Congress had the ability to interpret the constitution (which according to the Supreme Court's decision it does not possess) the interpretation would have to state clearly in a decree that the constitutional standard was being interpreted and to clarify thereafter the standards resulting from said interpretation (which was not done in the removal of the president). There is no tacit interpretation of the constitution; the interpretation must be explicit.
During the period when the Congress acted on the strength of amendments it had made to try to grant itself the power of Constitutional interpretation, there was a procedure that had to be followed. That procedure was not followed during the extraordinary session convened on June 28. The Congress had to declare that it was actively interpreting the Constitution.

It did not do so.

The fact that a US Congressional Research report decided that the only way the Congress could have done what it did is if it was (without declaring it) interpreting the Constitution would have been utterly inexplicable-- except, as we have shown, for the fact that the researcher involved relied on one single Honduran informant, apparently not knowing or not caring that this individual was not a disinterested source, and that his opinion conflicted with all real legal analyses offered in Honduras, Spain, and the US.

Indeed, we would make a third point of our own (complementing Sr. Sarmiento's third point, which we urge you to read at the original post, soon to be updated with a longer analysis):

The June 28 session was not an ordinary session (as it was erroneously labeled in the CRS report). It was an "extraordinary session".

The procedural document guiding Honduran National Congress meetings establishes in Article 5 the procedures to be followed for calling such an "extraordinary session".

These include the requirement that only those topics listed explicitly on the call for the session be discussed. There was no explicit mention of constitutional interpretation as part of the agenda for that meeting. That may in fact be because the members of the Honduran Congress knew that the Supreme Court had rejected the claimed power of interpretation years earlier.
[note that the original blog post on had the year wrong]

Surely Ms. Gutierrez should have found out that critical point? wouldn't it have been nice for her golpista source to have informed her, before she wrecked her credibility by producing this poisoned research?


phoenixwoman said...

In very simple terms, legislatures make law. Courts interpret it. When legislatures want to "interpret" law, they amend or repeal it. No fussing about on individual cases.

Thanks for casting so much light on this issue, RAJ. I know it was hard work.


Joseph said...

The cited report is not from the Congressional Research Service as erroneously claimed by the Wall Street Journal and Rep. Schock. It is from the Law Library of Congress (just look at the cover page of the report). They are different organizations.

RAJ said...

Thanks to Joseph (and others) who noted that this is not a CRS report. My reason for labeling it that way: the description by US Rep. Aaron Schock in his press release.

Which remains posted, not only uncorrected, but continuing to claim the mantle of the Congressional Research Service for this report. See separate post for more.