This post is going to be relatively short because we know very little about Mária Szívós except that she finished law school at the age of 29 in Szeged. For a while she worked as a lawyer but later became a judge, not the kind who decides cases but who during the investigative phase of the court proceedings decides on such questions as pre-trial detention, granting bail, issuing search warrants, and such. For the most part absolutely routine procedures. Such a position doesn't strike me as the pinnacle of the profession.
Mária Szívós became better known in 2006 when she changed the earlier decision of the lower court on the pre-trial detention of those who took an active part in the disturbances in September and October. I suspect that it was this action that called the current government's attention to her. In fact, she was called before the sub-committee investigating the events of 2006 where Gergely Gulyás, chairman of the subcommittee, praised her profusely as "one of the few judges who played an unusually positive role in the decision concerning pre-trial detention of the accused."
One peculiarity of the position of judge involved with the investigative phase of the proceedings is that his opinion concerning the cases cannot be made public. So we don't even know Mária Szívós's reasons for her decisions. However, since she is a judge at the Fővárosi Bíróság (Court of the Capital), we know how often she decides on pre-trial detention. According to the latest figures currently there are 715 people who are spending time in jail in the pre-trial phase. Out of these 248 have been incarcerated for more than six months. These numbers are very high, especially if we compare them to the number of house arrests and other milder forms of limits on the accused's movements. In the last few years the European Court of Human Rights found Hungary guilty twelve times of keeping people in pre-trial detention without real reasons. Behind these house arrests and pre-trial detentions one can find Mária Szívós's decisions. So, she seems to be very severe and is ready to rule on pre-trial detention with ease, but in the case of the hooligans setting cars on fire and attacking policemen she was exceptionally lenient. I think that tells quite a bit about her political views.
Unfortunately, we know nothing about her judicial philosophy. The authors of the study of the current nominees for the Constitutional Court couldn't find anything she put on paper. The Fővárosi Bíróság has a publication called "Intellectual Workshop" (Szellemi Műhely) where members of the Court can publish. Mária Szívós does not appear in the list of authors. I might be unfair, but if in the last nine years she has been dealing with these, to my mind, mundane court cases I doubt that she spends time studying constitutional law or thinking about judicial philosophy.
Since she was born in 1949 she would have had to retire from her job this year. This nomination certainly came at the right time for her.
As I was thinking about learning some constitutional law before writing an opinion I remembered a classic utterance from the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, Zoltán Lomnici. When someone criticized a judge who made a decision that was in blatant contradiction of the constitution, Lomnici exclaimed: "You don't expect judges to carry the constitution in their pockets and study it all the time." Tells a lot about Hungarian judges, doesn't it?
Well, what kinds of questions should (or rather by now should have) the legislators asked her? First and foremost, how was it possible that the Court in Strasbourg found Hungary in violation of certain sections of the Convention on Human Rights so often? Can it be that the unusually high number of cases requiring pre-trial detention in Budapest is based on a wrong interpretation of the law? Another appropriate question would be whether the law passed by parliament that annulled certain crimes connected to the disturbances in the fall of 2006 didn't violate the separation of powers outlined in the Constitution. Doesn't this law violate the independence of the judges?
From the early reports on the hearings it is not clear what the legislators asked Mária Szívós, but she volunteered her own surprise that she was nominated. She tried to figure out what made her a desirable candidate in the eyes of whoever nominated the future members of the Constitutional Court. She came to two conclusions. First, that in the future a lot of requests will reach the Court to rule in criminal cases, and after all she belonged to the criminal department of the Court. Second, because she teaches at the Catholic University. Her position at the university is "mestertanár" (master teacher). Here someone might help me out because I'm not familiar with this position: there are professors (egyetemi tanárok), associate professors (docensek), assistant professors (adjunktusok), teaching assistants (tanársegédek), but I have never heard of "master teachers." Since they come at the end of the departmental lists I assume that it is a fairly lowly position. But I'm only guessing.
It is really frightening who can become a member of the newly enlarged Hungarian Constitutional Court.