Poland's president defies constitutional ruling amid crisis


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WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's constitutional crisis deepened Tuesday, with the president indicating he will stick by the new ruling party's judicial appointments to the Constitutional Tribunal in defiance of a ruling last week by that same court.

A spokesman for President Andrzej Duda said he will swear in the fifth of five recent controversial appointments to the court, the nation's highest arbiter, on Wednesday. The spokesman, Marek Magierowski, also said Duda won't swear in three other judges who last week were declared by the court to have been chosen in accordance with the constitution by the previous government.

After the right-wing Law and Justice party took power in November, it moved quickly to place five new judges onto the 15-member Constitutional Tribunal. That involved an unprecedented voiding of five earlier appointments made by the previous government, led by the liberal Civic Platform party. The court ruled last week that three of those earlier appointments were valid, but two were not.

Critics decried Law and Justice's move as an attack on the nation's democratic guarantees and voiced fears that Poland is following the example of Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban has moved the country toward what he calls an "illiberal state."

A pro-democracy initiative in Warsaw, "We Are Watching You," called the moves by Law and Justice "an erosion of democracy at its constitutional core."

Because Law and Justice trod on territory yet unchartered in the 26 years of Poland's democracy, it's hard to predict how the crisis can be resolved.

Law and Justice now controls the presidency and parliament; its move relating to the court is aimed at removing the last remaining check on its power as it seeks to remake the country in line with its nationalistic and morally conservative social vision.

Last Wednesday, in an astonishingly speedy procedure, the new parliament voted in the five new judges and Duda quickly swore in four of them in the middle of the night before the court itself could rule on the validity of the earlier appointments by the previous government.

The tribunal is to rule Wednesday whether recent steps taken toward it by the new ruling party are in line with the constitution.

Even supporters of Civic Platform admit the party helped spark the crisis by naming two new judges before their predecessors had actually stepped down.

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This story has been corrected to show that three of the five appointments by the previous government were declared constitutional.

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Vanessa Gera

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