Poland’s Constitutional Crisis Deepens

Top judges fight back against the government’s attempts to weaken their autonomy.

Poland’s constitutional crisis deepened on Wednesday, when the country’s highest court rejected a series of changes to the way it operates.

The ruling conservative Law and Justice party immediately said it would not accept the court’s decision.

“It is hard to recognize that the hearing by the tribunal will be binding as it is not taking place according to the rules as determined by the current law,” argues Prime Minister Beata Szydło.

But it’s exactly the law her party rushed through parliament late last year that the court contests.


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.”

He also criticized the haste with which the reforms were enacted during a late-night sitting of parliament in December, only weeks after Law and Justice won the election and returned to power.

The reforms forced 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.

The court only has twelve judges now, hence the government’s refusal to accept Wednesday’s ruling.

But that is itself the consequence of a standoff between the legislative and judicial branches.

In October, the new right-wing majority in parliament overturned the appointment of three justices made by the outgoing legislature, which was controlled by liberal parties. The court refused to recognize that switch.


Law and Justice’s attempt to stack the court does not stand on its own. In recent months, the party has purged political opponents from government agencies and state-run companies. Media outlets critical of the new government have been threatened by lawmakers.

The illiberal push has set off alarm bells in Poland’s neighbors.

The European Commission launched an unprecedented probe into Poland’s judicial reforms in January.

A report from the Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe composed of independent law experts, is due to be published on Friday.