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Brazil's Chief Justice rules Sean Goldman should be returned to the US

This evening, the chief justice for the Federal Supreme Court overturned a stay ordered by a fellow justice last week that had kept nine-year-old Sean Goldman in the country instead of returning him to the United States with his father, David Goldman. Both Goldman and the Brazilian attorney general’s office had filed appeals to the first order.

Goldman is happy but cautious, his lawyer told G1 news, a Brazilian agency.

In effect, the chief justice, Gilmar Mendes was enforcing the 3-0 decision of a federal appeals court in Rio de Janeiro last week ordering that the Brazilian family of the boy turn him over to the American consulate there.  David Goldman came down to Brazil after that ruling in the hopes of picking up his son.

Mendes’s colleague, justice Marco Aurelio de Mello had ruled that the boy must stay in Brazil until the entire court decides whether his wishes should be heard. The Federal Supreme Court is now on holiday, but Mendes is on duty for emergency decisions. In his decision, Mendes wrote that since the appeals court had ruled that Brazil was in violation of an international treaty, “the judicial, political and social repercussions – above all in the international arean – are of extreme gravity.” He went on to say that there is no way to justify keeping Sean in Brazil.

As per usual in this case, it is still unclear what will happen.  The Brazilian family’s legal advisor, Sergio Tostes, said today that he had already filed an appeal of the Rio court’s decision. That would presumably be handled by the Supreme Court of Justice, one level below the Federal Supreme Court. It is rare for federal appeals court opinions to be overturned in Brazil, and presumably, it is rare for anyone to overturn a ruling by the highest court’s chief justice.

Possibly sensing what was coming, Sean’s maternal grandmother sent an open letter to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva today. It reads, in part:

“Today, my life’s greatest objective is to give all my attention and love to my grandchildren…One of those grandchildren, Sean, a native Brazilian, has become the target of an international campaign of inconceivable scope.  American authorities give public declarations calling a grandmother who just wants to raise her grandchildren in the absence of her daughter, a ‘kidnapper.’

"Our upbringing values the role of the mother. In the mother’s absence, raising children falls to the grandmother.  That’s how it is in all Brazil, from north to south, regardless of race, color, religion or class.  It’s natural that foreigners, with different upbringing, don’t understand these feelings that are so authenticially Brazilian.”

The overtures by the Brazilian family’s camp often seem to be a bit tone-deaf to an American ear, though presumably that’s not their target audience. Reactions I heard from Americans on the family’s invitations to have Goldman to spend Christmas with them were very negative, and the Goldman camp called it a “ploy.” This letter seems to be claiming that a Brazilian custom of grandmother-trumps-father should be the deciding factor in the case, as opposed to international treaties or Brazilian law. (It’s unclear to me that Brazilian views on the matter are so different from American views at all, but I’m no expert.)

But in any case, the Brazilian family has certainly not given up. We’ll see what they come up with tomorrow, and what the Goldman camp has to say as well.  I’m hitting the 6am shuttle to Rio de Janeiro.