International Law

Poland's top judge defies law that lowers retirement age

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Malgorzata Gersdorf at microphone.

Chief Justice Małgorzata Gersdorf of Poland’s Supreme Court. Katarzyna Czerwińska/Senate of the Republic of Poland via Wikimedia Commons.

Despite Polish legislation that requires a third of its Supreme Court justices to retire based on their ages, they showed up to work this week.

“I’m doing this to defend the rule of law and to testify to the truth about the line between the Constitution and the violation of the Constitution,” Chief Justice Małgorzata Gersdorf said on the courthouse steps, the New York Times reports. “I hope that legal order will return to Poland.”

The new law sets mandatory retirement for judges at age 65. The limit was previously 70, according to the Times, and the law could result in 27 of 72 Supreme Court justices leaving. Critics say that it harms post-Communist democratic success and aligns Warsaw with Hungary, which is facing European Union sanctions over rule of law violations, the Guardian reports.

There’s also a concern that the Law and Justice Party, which was the party of President Andrzej Duda, will use the new law to intimidate judges, according to the New York Times.

Supporters say that the new law makes the courts more accountable, the Washington Post reports. Thousands of people protested the new law Tuesday evening, according to the article.

The American Bar Association in 2017 sent a lawyer delegation to Poland to monitor the situation and support efforts that would preserve an independent judiciary.

The Polish government on Wednesday did not prevent Gersdorf and the other justices affected by the new law from entering the building, according to the New York Times. Józef Iwulski, the justice who the government named as Gersdorf’s successor, told the newspaper that Duda did not appoint him to the position or give him any duties.

“What will happen is what I predicted at the very beginning,” said Lech Wałęsa, Poland’s former president, in a radio interview quoted in the article. “There will be a civil war, there’s nothing we can do about it. This is the path of civil war. I’d like to avoid it.” Wałęsa in the 1980s helped break down the country’s Communist government.

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