Poland’s Government Steps Up Battle with Court

The conservative Law and Justice party continues to try to stack the Constitutional Tribunal in its favor.

Polish prime minister Beata Szydło speaks with members of her cabinet in parliament in Warsaw, January 29
Polish prime minister Beata Szydło speaks with members of her cabinet in parliament in Warsaw, January 29 (PiS)

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party shows no sign of backing down in the face of growing unease about its powergrabs both within the country and across Europe.

The conservatives, who returned to power in October, escalated their standoff with the Constitutional Tribunal this week by nominating another judge to the panel.

The court already has eighteen judges approved by the current legislature and the last — three more than there are seats.


The tribunal was a thorn in the eye of the last right-wing government, from 2005 and 2007, and has been no more accommodating to the current one.

Last month, it threw out a series of reforms Law and Justice rushed through parliament in a late-night sitting in December, mere weeks after winning the election.

Andrzej Rzepliński, the president of the Constitutional Tribunal, said the changes interfered with the court’s independence and “violated the principles of a law-bound state.”

They instructed the court to take cases in chronological order rather than at its discretion and introduced a quorum of thirteen out of fifteen judges for important decisions.

Because it didn’t meet the quorum when overturning the introduction of one, though, Law and Justice rejected the decision.

But the only reason the court couldn’t meet the threshold is that the party overturned the appointment of three judges made by the last parliament — and the court wouldn’t accept their replacements.

Illiberal turn

Law and Justice’s attempts to stack the court do not stand on their own.

Since it returned to power, the party has purged political opponents from government agencies and state-run companies while critical media outlets have been threatened by lawmakers.

The illiberal push has set off alarm bells in Brussels. The European Commission there launched an unprecedented probe into Poland’s judicial reforms in January. Frans Timmermans, one of the commission’s vice presidents, exhorted Polish officials earlier this month to respect the Constitutional Tribunal’s rulings.

63 percent of Poles said in a survey published in the Rzeczpospolita newspaper this week that they feel their democracy is in danger, up 8 percent from November.

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