On Tuesday, July 3rd, Poland’s government, controlled by the right wing Law and Justice party (PiS), implemented a new law that effectively purges Poland’s Supreme Court and consolidates party control over the country’s previously independent judiciary. The government had already taken control of common courts and the constitutional court, and created a judicial disciplinary chamber. The new law forces the retirement of 27 of the court’s 72 judges, including court president Justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, and gives itself the power to appoint new judges — which would bring the judiciary fully under political control.
Poland has a vibrant civil society, and in response to the government move, tens of thousands in 60 cities and town across the country took to the streets in protest. The action against the Supreme Court is widely considered a decisive move toward the erosion of democracy in the country.
In defiance of the new law, widely held as unconstitutional, Supreme Court president Gersdorf and other court judges still showed up for work on Wednesday, supported by thousands of protestors in front of the Supreme Court building. Gersdorf said she was defending the rule of law.
Since they came into power in 2015, the ruling PiS, led by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has been rapidly eroding democratic institutions, including the media. As one of the new government’s first actions, President Andrzej Duda signed a law allowing them to appoint the heads of public media and civil institutions. Independent media have been assessed fines for their reporting, and journalists threatened with prison time.
Said Dariusz Mazur, a regional court judge in Krakow: “We are at the verge of autocracy.
Already last December, the EU began article 7 sanction proceedings against Poland over what it saw as “systemic threats” to the rule of law in the country. Now on Monday, the European Commission has opened a new procedure over the latest Supreme Court law, which could land the case in the European Court of Justice.
Meanwhile, Lech Walesa, president of Poland from 1990 to 1995, and leader of the Solidarity movement that ended Communist rule in the country, announced Wednesday on his Facebook page that he was leaving Gdansk for Warsaw, to lead a campaign of civil disobedience. “What will happen is what I predicted at the very beginning, Walesa said. “There will be a civil war, there’s nothing we can do about it.”