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Fate Of Poland's Supreme Court Is Now In President's Hands, Despite Protests

Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski (bottom row center) and fellow party members vote Thursday to approve a law giving the president control over the Supreme Court.
Alik Keplicz
Law and Justice party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski (bottom row center) and fellow party members vote Thursday to approve a law giving the president control over the Supreme Court.

Poland is poised to dissolve a key separation of government powers, as President Andrzej Duda is expected to sign a bill that puts the nation's Supreme Court under the control of the ruling party, despite citizens' protests and pleas from allies in the EU and U.S.

Poland's Senate approved the measure early Saturday, capping days of debate and demonstrations. The lower house of Parliament gave its approval earlier this week.

"Mass protests in Poland in recent days failed to change the minds of the ruling Law and Justice Party," NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Berlin. "Its leaders say the measure — which among other things, ousts the current Supreme Court judges — is aimed at reforming the judicial system and to ensure any vestiges of communism are purged."

The new law would allow Duda to choose who gets to stay on the court and to name new judges to replace anyone he wants to remove.

The changes were backed by the Law and Justice party, also known as as PiS. The party, which NPR's Camila Domonoske has described as "conservative, populist, Euro-skeptic and nationalist," is showing strong support in public opinion polls, despite the controversy.

A monthly poll found PiS leading all parties with 37 percent of likely voters saying they would back the party, according to Radio Poland. The poll was conducted on Tuesday and Wednesday, amid large street protests against the party's plan for the judiciary.

Even before the Senate voted on the measure, Duda posted a tweet announcing that he'll meet with the president of the Supreme Court, Malgorzata Gersdorf, on Monday at 11 a.m.

As the Senate vote neared, the U.S. State Department issued a statement Friday urging all sides "to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland's constitution or international legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers."

Noting Poland's role as a "strong and healthy democracy," the statement concluded by stating that the U.S. is confident in "the ability of Poles to address these issues through dialogue and compromise" so that a system of checks and balances is maintained.

The European Union has threatened to impose sanctions on Poland for possible infractions of EU law, in a rift that's grown since Duda and his party won both the presidency and Parliament in 2015.

In Brussels, the European Commission said this week that it "expresses grave concern about clear risks for the independence of the judiciary," citing proposals to alter how the Supreme Court is chosen and other changes to Poland's legal system.

Saying that the laws "would increase the systemic threat to the rule of law in Poland," the Commission urged Poland's leaders to hold off on making any changes and return to talks with the EU that have been going on since January of 2016.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.