Barbosa Gomes, Joaquim Benedito

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Barbosa Gomes, Joaquim Benedito

October 7, 1954

The Brazilian Supreme Court justice Joaquim Benedito Barbosa Gomes was born in Paracatu, Minas Gerais, the oldest of eight children. The son of a brickmaker, Barbosa Gomes left the tiny town of Paracatu at age sixteen to finish secondary school in the capital city of Brasília. In order to support himself, Barbosa Gomes worked as a janitor for the Regional Electoral Tribunal. One day, while cleaning a restroom, one of the court directors heard him singing in English. Impressed with his command of the language, the judge arranged to get him a job as an offset printer at the newspaper Correio Braziliense. Barbosa Gomes used his skill as a printer to buy a car, help his family, and continue his studies. He eventually earned entry into the University of Brasília. Working nights at the congressional printing service, he took classes in the mornings and slept

briefly in the afternoons. In 1976 Barbosa Gomes passed Brazil's Office of the Chancellery exam and began working as an overseas consular official, serving in Finland, England, and Switzerland. Even as he was engaged in his consular work, Barbosa Gomes continued his university studies, earning his law degree in 1979. Barbosa Gomes had aspirations of becoming a diplomat, but he was denied entry into the diplomatic corps, allegedly because of racial discriminationhe passed all of his written exams but could not pass the interview stage. Barbosa Gomes began his legal career in 1979, working as a lawyer for the Ministry of Finance. He served as chief legal counsel for the minister of health from 1985 to 1988. Until 2003 he served as public prosecutor before the Federal Regional Tribunals of Brasília and Rio de Janeiro.

As he embarked on his career in law, Barbosa Gomes continued his wide-ranging education. He mastered four foreign languagesFrench, English, German, and Italian. In 1993 he completed a Ph.D. at the University of Paris II, specializing in comparative constitutional law. He is the author of two books, La Cour Suprême dans le système politique Brésilien (The Supreme Court in the Brazilian political system, 1994) and Ação afirmativa & princípio constitucional da igualdade: O direito como instrumento de transformação social. A experiência dos EUA (Affirmative action and the constitutional principle of equality: The law as instrument of social transformationThe experience of the United States, 2001). He has worked as a visiting professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University and has been the recipient of several prestigious fellowships, including ones from the Fulbright Program and the Ford Foundation. Barbosa Gomes also has served various organizations as a consultant on human rights issues, with an emphasis on combating racial discrimination.

For much of his career, Barbosa Gomes has been a strong advocate for equal rights and racial equality in Brazil. He has criticized Brazil for being more racially and socially polarized than the United States or Europe. Indeed, he points to the history of affirmative action in the United States as a model that Brazil might follow in trying to narrow inequalities of opportunity for minorities and poor people. He has also defended racial quotas in the most flagrant cases of inequality, such as in hiring practices and in university admissions. In 2003, amid a controversy over new laws requiring racial quotas at state universities, the Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva nominated Barbosa Gomes to become Brazil's first black Supreme Court justice. Barbosa Gomes has vowed to continue his support of legal remedies for social and racial inequality.

See also Politics; Race and Education in Brazil


Carneiro, Luiz Orlando. "Um batalhador pelas ações afirmativas: Barbosa Gomes chega ao STF defendendo espaços para negros." Jornal do Brasil, May 11, 2003, p. A6.

Colitt, Raymond. "Brazilian president moves first black into country's top court." Financial Times, May 31, 2003, p. 7.

"Comissão do Senado aprova a indicação de Barbosa para STF." Jornal do Comercio, May 22, 2003, p. B12.

Gomes, Joaquim Benedito Barbosa. Ação afirmativa & princípio constitucional da igualdade: O direito como instrumento de transformação social. A experiência dos EUA. Rio de Janeiro: Renovar, 2001.

La Cour Suprême dans le système politique Brésilien. Paris: LGDJ/Montechrestien, 1994.

james h. sweet (2005)

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Barbosa Gomes, Joaquim Benedito

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