The Attack on Democracy in Poland and the Response of the Left

By On July 19, 2018

The Attack on Democracy in Poland and the Response of the Left

The current battle over the Supreme Court is only the latest in a series of conflicts between a right-wing administration seeking to impose its will on society and an opposition trying to defend the rule of law. I should be clear I’m talking about the Polish Supreme Court, though some parallels with our American crisis are evident.

Since coming to power in 2015, the Law and Justice Party (PiS) has sought to subordinate all state institutions, and even much of civil society, to its will. Its first order of business was taking over the Constitutional Court, thus making sure that none of its legislation would be thrown out. It succeeded two years ago.

The latest battlefield concerns the Supreme Court, a body with more influence on day-to-day matters than its American counterpart, as it is a kind of compilation of all the state supreme courts and courts of appeal in the United States. The new law purges the Court of most of its members, allows PiS to immediately take majority control, and creates two new chambers (staffed only by PiS appointees) empowered to discipline other members of the Court, unilaterally annul previous Court decisions, and decide all complaints concerning elections. With legislation having already turned Poland’s bar into an association appointed by the government, thus limiting even candidates for judgeships to those vetted by a PiS body, the new law finalizes PiS’s takeover of the judiciary.

As befits a centralized state, Poland’s Supreme Court decides a vast number of cases each year (it reviewed 11,000 matters in 2017), and thus has a large number of justices. There were 80 before the new law. Of these, 28 are forced out due to a new mandatory retirement age, and 4 due to the elimination of one of the Court’s chambers, leaving only 48 still entitled to serve. But since the new law also stacks the Court, increasing the number to 120, this allows PiS to appoint 72 new justices, giving the party 60 percent of the total. The actual percentage will in fact be higher, since several justices have announced their intention to resign in protest against the clear unconstitutionality of some of the provisions and the general degradation of the institution.

Passage of the law triggered the first invocation of Article 7 in the history of the European Union, threatening Poland with loss of its voting rights due to violation of the EU rule on the separation of powers. It sparked mass demonstrations inside Poland, which revived the first week of July when the law went into effect. It has also led to an unusual protest by the Supreme Court itself, whose members issued a statement pointing out the obvious unconstitutionality of the legislation’s sacking of the chief justice. Article 183 of the Constitution states that the chief justice of the Court is appointed to a six-year term, and Arti cle 180 states that justices cannot be removed. This makes it plain that Chief Justice Małgorzata Gersdorf, who took her post in 2014, cannot be removed until 2020. PiS says that since the Constitution also allows Parliament to set a mandatory retirement age, Gersdorf, who is 65, can be removed under this provision.

Source: Google News Poland | Netizen 24 Poland

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