WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's Constitutional Tribunal ruled Thursday that three out of five judges appointed to the court by the previous, liberal ruling party were legally nominated, throwing into chaos the new conservative ruling party's attempts to replace them with its own choices.
The ruling came only hours after President Andrzej Duda confirmed four new judges for the country's special court. He was to confirm a fifth next week.
The issue has led to an escalating political dispute, with the Law and Justice party, in power since last month, and the previously ruling Civic Platform accusing each other of acting illegally. Duda also won the presidency on a Law and Justice ticket, giving the party wide power.
The court itself said Thursday that the selection of three among the five judges appointed by Civic Platform before it left office was done in line with the constitution, meaning they can't be replaced with those appointed on Wednesday.
However, it said the appointment of the other two to the 15-member court was unconstitutional.
The ruling also suggests that Duda could have violated the constitution when he swore in the newly-appointed judges.
In a televised address later Thursday, Duda defended his move, saying it restored legal order that was disturbed by a "faulty" choice of judges under Civic Platform which, he said, wanted to make the court "unilaterally political." He didn't comment on the tribunal's ruling.
He said he will order a special team to work out a change in the rules of appointing the tribunal's judges, to make them clear and free of any suspicion of bias.
Earlier, Parliament Speaker Marek Kuchcinski, of Law and Justice, said the ruling exposed weaknesses in regulations concerning the court and criticized the tribunal for having failed to protest at the time when the two unconstitutional appointments were being made in October.
It remains to be seen how the parliament, dominated by Law and Justice, will solve this constitutional conflict that is sparking a major political row in Poland. It has also pulled the tribunal — in principle nonpolitical — into the heart of politics. The court rules on whether laws are in line with the supreme charter and can indirectly extend or block work on new laws.
Small groups of supporters of both parties, with white-and-red national flags, staged rallies in front of the court. Civic Platform supporters cheered after the ruling.