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Controversial Polish Law Forces Top Judges To Retire


There's political disarray in Poland today following a move to purge justices from that country's Supreme Court. A new law forces nearly 40 percent of the court's judges into early retirement. For Poland's ruling party, this is an opportunity to reshape the courts. But critics say this law is unconstitutional. Joining us now to explain all this is Lukasz Pawlowski. He's the managing editor of Kultura Liberalna, a magazine in Warsaw. And he joins us via Skype. Lukasz, welcome.

LUKASZ PAWLOWSKI: Thanks for having me. Hello.

KING: What does this new law aimed at the Supreme Court actually do?

PAWLOWSKI: So first of all, Supreme Court in Poland is not like Supreme Court in the United States. To judge whether a new law is in line with the constitution, we have a different court called Constitutional Tribunal. However, the Supreme Court in Poland decides on how laws should be interpreted. That's one of its main functions. It also decides on the legality of the elections.

So this is a very important decision to make. Therefore, if you introduce, quote, unquote, "your judges" into the Supreme Court, that gives you an enormous political leverage over your opponents. And it gives you great power to interpret the laws that are being introduced. So that is the main goal that the ruling party Law and Justice is trying to achieve here.

KING: The European Union is not pleased with what is going on in Poland. What is the EU worried about?

PAWLOWSKI: Obviously, the main worry that the European Union has is that Polish judiciary system will not be independent and that the laws that should apply across the European Union may not apply in Poland. That's one thing. That obviously impairs the safety of investments, of - safety of European citizens coming to Poland as well. So this is the main fear that the European Union, I guess, has.

KING: Can the European Union force the Polish government to withdraw this law about the Supreme Court?

PAWLOWSKI: The European Commission can challenge the laws that were implemented in Poland before the Court of Justice of the European Union. And if it decides that, because of the new laws in Poland, the European laws introduced by the European Parliament cannot be implemented or are in danger of being somehow impaired, then the Court of Justice of the European Union may ask the Polish government to withdraw this law.

KING: Lukasz, how are people in Poland reacting to all of this? Are they worried?

PAWLOWSKI: Well, it's obviously difficult to answer in a simple way. But I'll tell you that regularly in Poland you have demonstrations against the actions of the government - not only against the actions regarding the judiciary system but many different issues as well - for example, abortion rights. So I would say that Polish people are very politically active. However, the major problem is that, even if they are against the actions taken by the current government, they are still not willing to vote for the opposition parties.

KING: All right, so a lot remains to be seen. Lukasz Pawlowski is managing editor of Kultura Liberalna magazine. Thank you so much, Lukasz.

PAWLOWSKI: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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