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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 May, 2003, 09:33 GMT 10:33 UK
Black judge for top Brazil court
By Tom Gibb
BBC correspondent in Sao Paulo

Judge Gomes
A key racial barrier is broken with the appointment of Judge Gomes
Brazil's new left-wing President, Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, has appointed the country's first black judge to sit on the Supreme Court.

It is one of three appointments that are likely to mark the start of a major political shift in the court as older, more conservative judges retire.

Although many Brazilians are descended from Africans there are only a handful of black faces in positions of power in Brasilia.

Lula, as the new President from the Worker's Party is known, has promised to start to redress the balance.

The judge he has appointed is Joaquim Benedito Barbosa Gomes, currently a state prosecutor in Rio de Janeiro.

He has long been a supporter of affirmative action to redress racial inequalities.

Move to the right

Lula has also nominated two other left-leaning candidates to the court, marking an ideological shift which could last long after his presidency.

The three outgoing judges, all retiring on reaching 70, were the most conservative on the bench, having held their positions since the days of military rule.

The new appointees are far more likely to support the economic and social reforms being put forward by Lula.

With two more judges expected to retire soon, by the end of his presidency, Lula will have been able to appoint almost half of the 11-member court.

The new appointees have to be confirmed by Congress, but this is regarded as a formality.

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