The Federative Republic of Brazil (hereinafter Brazil) is a democratic country, which is composed of 26 states and a federal district. The federal government is divided into three branches: executive, legislative, and judiciary. Its economy is diversified and subject to free-market rules
Brazil follows the civil law tradition where rules are written. Codes and statutes are passed by Congress. Courts apply them to support their decisions.
Brazil has a presidential system; the President is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, head of state, and the government.
The President is directly elected by the people for a term of four (4) years. One consecutive re-election is allowed.
Like the US, the Brazilian judiciary has two different sets of courts: federal and state courts, being the Supreme Federal Court the highest court of its legal system. The federal organization of justice as well as the jurisdiction of federal courts are established in the federal Constitution. Instead, the states organize their justice systems and jurisdiction in their own Constitutions.
By hierarchy, ordinary courts at the federal level can be organized as follows:
Labor, military, and electoral matters are litigated before specialized courts, but they are subordinated to the Supreme Federal Court.
The legal hierarchy of federal laws is as follows:
The federal official gazette is "Diário Oficial da União". This daily publication contains constitutional amendments, codes, statutes, regulations, among others, enacted at the federal level. On the other hand, each Brazilian state has its official gazette.
The current federal Constitution was adopted in 1988, and since then it has been amended. The Constitution is written in Portuguese, the official language in Brazil.
Human rights treaties approved with a qualified quorum by both houses of Congress have constitutional standing (Art. 5 paragraph 3 federal Constitution).
To pass a federal law, it must be approved by both houses of Congress (the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies), with the sanction of the President of Brazil.
Codes are organized statutes covering a specific subject matter. Some of the most relevant ones are the Civil Code (Código Civil) and the Civil Procedural Code (Código de Processo Civil).
Federal regulations have a lower hierarchy than statutes, codes, and treaties. They are classified by their nature and number.
Brazilian law follows decisions issued by the Supreme Federal Court named "súmulas vinculantes. They follow reiterated judicial decisions on constitutional matters, and have a binding effect at the federal and state levels (art. 103-A federal Constitution).
To discuss a case before the Supreme Federal Court, it shall raise a relevant constitutional question with general repercussions (i.e. significant impact in the socioeconomic arena).
A few Portuguese-English legal terms:
Decreto Legislativo: Legislative decree
Emenda à Constituição: Constitutional amendment
Lei complementar: Complementary statute
Lei ordinária: Ordinary statute
Medida provisória: Provisionary measure
Tratado internacional: International treaty
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The author would like to express his deepest gratitude to Fredys Orlando Sorto, Pedro de Hollanda Dionisio, and Renata Vargas Amaral for their feedback to enrich the content of this research guide.
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