Poland Takes Step Toward Unwinding Its Democracy

President Andrzej Duda now has 21 days to sign the contentious bill into law
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 22, 2017 6:30 AM CDT
Protests Surge as Poland's Senate Approves Court Overhaul
Opposition supporters shout slogans as they protest in front of the Senate building where a debate continues before a crucial vote to approve legislation that would give politicians substantial influence over the country's Supreme Court, in Warsaw, Poland.   (Alik Keplicz)

Poland's Senate approved a contentious law on Saturday that gives politicians substantial influence over the Supreme Court, in defiance of European Union criticism. The bill proposed by the populist ruling party only needs the signature of President Andrzej Duda to become binding. The vote was 55-23 with two abstentions, reports the AP. It was met with boos from protesters gathered in front of the Senate building. EU leaders say the bill would kill judicial independence and threaten the rule of law in the EU's largest member in Central and Eastern Europe. If the changes go through, the EU says Poland may no longer qualify as a democracy. The US State Department voiced concern on Friday and urged all sides to "ensure that any judicial reform ... respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers."

Jaroslaw Kaczynski, head of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, contends the judiciary still works along a communist-era model and harbors many judges from that time. Prime Minister Beata Szydlo says the legislation is an internal matter and the government will not bow to any foreign pressure. The legislation calls for firing current Supreme Court judges, except those chosen by the justice minister and approved by the president. In anticipation of the vote, crowds gathered Friday night for yet another protest in front of the Supreme Court building in Warsaw and other cities. The president, who has so far followed the ruling party line, has 21 days to sign the bill, and is not expected to do it before his meeting Monday with the head of the court, Malgorzata Gersdorf. More on what's happening here. (More Poland stories.)

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