How Poland Ended Up Defying EU Law

Constitutional Tribunal Warsaw Poland
Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, Poland, November 3, 2012 (Lukas Plewnia)

Poland has escalated its rule-of-law dispute with the rest of the European Union by arguing its own laws supersede the EU’s, and indeed some EU laws are incompatible with the Polish Constitution.

The decision of the Constitutional Tribunal caps six years of legal battle that began when Poland’s nationalist Law and Justice returned to power in 2015.

Here’s a timeline of events and a look at what could happen next. Read more “How Poland Ended Up Defying EU Law”

Italian Parliament Backs Judicial Reforms

Palace of Justice Rome Italy
Palace of Justice in Rome, Italy (Deposit Photos)

Mario Draghi isn’t wasting any time. The former European Central Bank chief became prime minister of Italy in February, announced his reform plans in April and got parliament’s approval for an overhaul of the justice system on Tuesday.

Italian courts are notoriously slow. Even routine proceedings like resolving bankruptcies can take years. It is one of the reasons startup activity is low, foreign investment is lacking and Italy is one of the worst countries in the developed world to do business in.

Draghi’s goal is to reduce the average length of criminal trials by a quarter and those of civil cases by 40 percent. Read more “Italian Parliament Backs Judicial Reforms”

Judges Need to Know Their Place

Supreme Court The Hague Netherlands
Seat of the Supreme Court of the Netherlands in The Hague, February 3, 2016 (Rijksvastgoedbedrijf/Bas Kijzers)

European judges have discovered they can compel politicians to take action against climate change.

France’s Council of State has given the government of Emmanuel Macron an April 2022 deadline (one month before the election) to ensure the country will meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

Germany’s Constitutional Court issued a similar ruling in April and gave the government an end-of-year deadline to update its policy.

A Dutch court has gone further, ordering Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, to reduce not just its own carbon dioxide emissions by 45 percent but those of its customers and suppliers as well.

It’s like we’re living in a kritocracy. Read more “Judges Need to Know Their Place”

Pardons Are the Least Sánchez Can Do for Catalans

Pedro Sánchez
Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez speaks at a congress of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in Huesca, October 1, 2019 (PSOE/Eva Ercolanese)

When he needed their support a year and a half ago to become prime minister a second time, Spain’s Pedro Sánchez offered Catalan parties a good deal: more autonomy, a resumption of official dialogue between the central and regional government, and possibly a pardon for the separatist leaders who were imprisoned for organizing an unsanctioned independence referendum in 2017.

No additional competencies have yet been transferred from Madrid to Barcelona. Official talks, to hash out a new division of powers, have been on hold. A legal independence referendum is still unlikely. But Spanish media report Sánchez is mulling pardons.

It’s the least he can do. Read more “Pardons Are the Least Sánchez Can Do for Catalans”

Conservatives Win Battle for Spanish Courts

Supreme Court Madrid Spain
Seat of the Spanish Supreme Court in Madrid, November 27, 2012 (Wikimedia Commons)

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’ left-wing government has withdrawn reforms of the body that appoints Spain’s judges, including those of the Supreme Court.

The climbdown is a victory for conservatives, who have for years blocked the appointment and elevation of more progressive judges through their control of the General Council of the Judiciary.

The council’s five-year term expired in December 2018, six months after Sánchez took power from the conservative People’s Party, but it has continued to name judges to Spain’s highest courts.

Supermajorities of three out of five lawmakers are required in both the Congress of Deputies and the Senate to install a new council, giving the center-right People’s Party and far-right Vox (Voice) — which together hold 40 percent of the seats — a veto. Read more “Conservatives Win Battle for Spanish Courts”

Stakes in Supreme Court Nominations Are Too High

United States Supreme Court Washington
Mourners gather outside the United States Supreme Court in Washington DC after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, September 19 (Ted Eytan)

The death of one Supreme Court justice shouldn’t plunge the whole country into crisis. The fact that Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s has is more proof that America’s top court is too powerful.

In no other democracy does the highest court feature so prominently in the public imagination.

Here in Catalonia, Spain’s Supreme Court is controversial for consistently ruling against Catalan interests, but I doubt many Catalans know the names of individual Supreme Court justices. Certainly the average Dutch person or Italian doesn’t.

Even in Poland, where the ruling far-right party has created a parallel legal system to sideline a Supreme Court it considers to be dominated by liberals, the fate of individual justices doesn’t provoke such strong emotions as in the United States.

American justices have been aware of the danger. Antonin Scalia, a conservative, cautioned a year before his death in 2016 that America could find itself governed by a “black-robed supremacy” unless its rediscovered its tradition of “self-rule”. Read more “Stakes in Supreme Court Nominations Are Too High”

Don’t Defund the Police

Police car Washington DC
Police car outside the White House in Washington DC (Unsplash/Matt Popovich)

It’s exasperating to see yet another black man shot by police in America when he posed no apparent threat. Officers fired seven bullets into the back of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, when he leaned into his car.

Blake survived. George Floyd didn’t. He suffocated when a white police officer, Derek Chauvin, sat on his neck for almost 9 minutes in Minneapolis in May.

Floyd’s death triggered nationwide protests. Blake’s shooting provoked demonstrations as well as looting and riots in Kenosha.

Black men in America are two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed by police than white men. African Americans comprise 12 percent of the population but 33 percent of prisoners. Black men are routinely arrested and prosecuted for misdemeanors and victimless crimes when whites aren’t.

So it’s not hard to understand why “defund the police” has become a popular slogan.

But it’s not a solution. Read more “Don’t Defund the Police”

Trump’s Pardon of Roger Stone Is Clearly Corrupt

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump attends a meeting in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018 (Office of the President of the Republic of Finland/Juhani Kandell)

Nearly four years of Donald Trump’s corruption and incompetence have nearly numbed me, but when everyone from National Review, which has often given the president the benefit of the doubt, to Robert Mueller, the former director of the FBI who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, speaks out, we ought to pay attention.

Friday afternoon, Trump commuted the forty-month prison sentence of his longtime accomplice Roger Stone, who had been convicted of witness tampering, obstructing an investigation and lying to Congress. Read more “Trump’s Pardon of Roger Stone Is Clearly Corrupt”

Trump Attacks the Rule of Law

Caudillo Donald Trump
The “Yankee caudillo” Donald Trump (The Washington Post)

When Donald Trump pardoned former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio in 2017 — before the court even had a chance to sentence him for contempt — it reminded me of that adage of South American dictators: “For my friends, anything. For my enemies, the law.”

Now we know just how far Trump is willing to take America down the path of a banana republic. Read more “Trump Attacks the Rule of Law”

Judicial Reforms Create Parallel Legal System in Poland

Mateusz Morawiecki
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki gives a speech at the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw, April 11, 2019 (KPRM/Adam Guz)

Poland’s ruling conservative party’s obsession with bending the legal system to its will is creating what the Financial Times calls a parallel legal system: one set of judges are loyal to Małgorzata Gersdorf’s still-independent Supreme Court while another obey the government-friendly Constitutional Tribunal. Read more “Judicial Reforms Create Parallel Legal System in Poland”