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Only Poles Can Save Polish Democracy

In recent weeks, Poland's ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has moved forward with legislation to undermine the country's independent judiciary and pack it with loyalists. Poles who still support liberal democracy should not hold their breath waiting for the European Union – or Poland's judges – to step in.

WARSAW – Massive protests in Warsaw have made headlines around the world in recent weeks. Poles are demonstrating against legislation enacted by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party that would lower the retirement age of Supreme Court justices, effectively forcing out all judges over the age of 65 and allowing the PiS to pack the court with its own tame justices.

The Polish constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and sets the term for the First President of the Supreme Court at six years. That means judges cannot be removed by legislation – at least not constitutionally. Yet the new law enables Polish President Andrzej Duda to replace up to three-fifths of the Supreme Court’s  justices, including the chief justice, in 2018 alone.

Moreover, the government has added two new chambers to the court, expanding the number of justices from 93 to 120. A new Disciplinary Chamber will be used to threaten noncompliant judges, and an Extraordinary Audit and Public Affairs Chamber will certify the validity of electoral results. The latter chamber will also have the authority to investigate past electoral complaints, effectively empowering the government to overturn court decisions dating back 20 years. The PiS is seizing full control not only over judicial decision-making in the present, but also over the past two decades of legal precedent.

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