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Photo: “Manifestação em frente ao Congresso Nacional“, by Senado Federal licensed under CC BY 2.0. Hue modified from the original

De Sa e Silva, Fabio. “From Car Wash to Bolsonaro: Law and Lawyers in Brazil’s Illiberal Turn (2014–2018).” Journal of Law and Society 47 (2020): S90-S110.


Law and lawyers tend to be seen as either preferential victims of or key counterforces to rising illiberalism. Brazil offers a good testbed for these claims. Brazilian democracy has deteriorated considerably, as epitomized by the election of Jair Bolsonaro in 2018. Yet, since 2014, law and lawyers have become ever more central to Brazil’s field of state power. As the anti‐corruption initiative Car Wash (Lava Jato) gained momentum, Brazilian judges and prosecutors were celebrated, locally and globally, as champions of transparency, accountability, and ‘the rule of law’. Following a closer look at Car Wash, this article questions such idealization of law and lawyers. Drawing on research on press interviews and statements by Car Wash legal officers, I find that, throughout the case, they produced a ‘political grammar’ that is closer to illiberalism than many would predict. Based on recent developments in the sociology of fields, I argue that the production of these grammars yields societal effects that deserve scholarly and civic attention.

The Illiberalism Studies Program studies the different faces of illiberal politics and thought in today’s world, taking into account the diversity of their cultural context, their intellectual genealogy, the sociology of their popular support, and their implications on the international scene.