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In seizing control over the Supreme Court, Poland’s authoritarian rulers consolidate power

Protests are boiling over across Poland after the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) passed legislation that would allow the government to force the country’s judges, all the way up to the Supreme Court, to retire, allowing them to appoint new, party-friendly judges in their place.

The PiS is a notorious authoritarian/xenophobic party: fundamentalist religious zealots who are anti-immigrant, anti-woman, homophobic, and anti-free-speech. They have provoked fearsome opposition from Poles, who came out en masse to fight such legislative initiatives as a batshit abortion law that would have even imprisoned doctors if they performed operations to save an expectant mother’s life and risked the foetus.

The new judicial controls have far-reaching implications over the future of Polish politics, long after the PiS regime is bad memory: it will allow PiS to choose the judges who’ll settle future controversies over corrupt elections (including snap elections called to consolidate power, say, after the upcoming Trump visit); it will let them bring trumped-up criminal charges against the previous leadership of the country; it will allow them to decide which opposition candidates can raise campaign funds; and more.

The street protests in Poland have worked before, knocking back the country’s bananas abortion law. Let’s hope they work again.

The Friday legislative vote makes some stark moves:

The justice minister will now have discretion over which Supreme Court judges remain in office and who is forced into retirement.

Effectively, this reduces the number of judges from 87 to 31 (technically, the number is 43, but 12 will sit on a newly created “disciplinary department,” so there will be 31 judges doing the work of 87) The qualification for holding a high court seat was lowered, with a minimum of just 12 years of experience required for a position on a regional court.

But here’s the crowning blow in ending the independence of the judiciary in Poland: Since the justice minister simultaneously holds the position of prosecutor general, the ruling majority may now choose both the prosecutor AND the judge in every single court case.

The attack on Poland’s judicial independence goes deeper than you may think. Here are 5 things to know. [Monika Nalepa/Washington Post]

I’m at a concert but judging from my timeline we’re in for another night of massive protests all over Poland pic.twitter.com/lwF1gD8PP6

— Exen (@Exen) July 22, 2017

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