Poland's president defies constitutional ruling amid crisis

AP News
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Posted: Dec 08, 2015 10:30 AM
Poland's president defies constitutional ruling amid crisis

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's constitutional crisis deepened on Tuesday, with the president indicating that he will stick by appointments to the Constitutional Tribunal that were declared illegal last week by that same court, the nation's highest arbiter of the law.

A spokesman for President Andrzej Duda said that he will go ahead on Wednesday with the swearing in of the fifth of five controversial appointments to the court. The spokesman, Marek Magierowski, also said Duda won't swear in three of the judges who were last week declared by the court to have been chosen in accordance with the law by the previous government.

After the right-wing Law and Justice party took power in November, it moved quickly to place five new judges onto the 15-member Constitutional Tribunal. That involved voiding five recent appointments made by the previous government, even though three of those were in accordance with the regulations.

Critics decry the moves against the court as an attack on the nation's democratic guarantees, and fear that Poland is following the example of Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has moved the country in the direction of what he calls an "illiberal state."

A pro-democracy initiative in Warsaw, "We Are Watching You," called the moves by Law and Justice "a situation without a precedent in Poland's democratic history" and "an erosion of democracy at its constitutional core."

Law and Justice now controls the presidency and parliament; its moves relating to the court are aimed at removing the last remaining check on its power as it seeks to remake the country in line with its nationalistic and morally conservative social vision. The party has also vowed to do more to help the poor at the expense of powerful corporations and foreign-owned banks.

Last Wednesday, the new parliament voted in the five new judges, and Duda quickly swore four of them in in the middle of the night. The next day that same tribunal — even with the presence of the new members — ruled that three of those five appointments were illegal.

Law and Justice faults the previous government, led by Civic Platform, for making two premature appointments, something it considers a violation of democratic norms.

Even supporters of Civic Platform admit that the party helped spark the crisis by naming two new judges before their replacements had actually stepped down.

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This story has been corrected to show that three of the five appointments were illegal, not two.