• Opposition lawmakers can replace new members in January
  • President Maduro says Congress will pass laws until term ends

Lame duck legislators named more than a dozen Supreme Court justices just weeks before Venezuela’s opposition is set to wrest congress from the ruling socialists for the first time in 16 years.

The last-minute measure potentially sets the stage for an institutional battle when new lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 5, as congress can reverse the measure. The opposition has accused the government of trampling the constitution, approving a raft of laws before congress changes hands next month.

“We respect the constitution and you do not,” outgoing National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said after the vote. “This type of confrontation is inevitable.”

Thirteen judges are set to be sworn in as early as Wednesday.

After President Nicolas Maduro’s socialist PSUV party lost control of the legislature for the first time since 1999, the Venezuelan leader vowed that congress would continue to pass laws before its term ends. That has heightened tensions with opposition leaders who want to roll back measures they say have stoked inflation, fueled corruption, and led to shortages of basic consumer goods.

“The government is trying to ignore electoral results and again use the Supreme Court as an organ of the PSUV,” opposition leader Julio Borges said in a statement ahead of the vote.

Maduro and his predecessor, the late Hugo Chavez, have ruled with unfettered control of the country’s institutions and regularly used emergency decree powers approved by the legislature to justify takeovers of private companies and create off-budget funds tapped for development projects.

Crushed by falling oil prices, the International Monetary Fund forecast that Venezuela’s economy will contract 10 percent this year, while economists polled by Bloomberg see prices rising about 124 percent.

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