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Duda Vetoes 2 Laws Limiting Courts’ Independence

Poland’s president defied expectations on Monday and vetoed two proposed laws that would have placed the country’s courts more directly under the control of the right-wing governing party, New York Times reports.

Poles had taken to the streets by the tens of thousands over the past week to protest the laws and to call on the president, Andrzej Duda, to veto them.

The European Union, which Poland joined in 2004, had warned Warsaw that adoption of the new laws — which the bloc’s officials said threatened the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law — would draw a sharp rebuke, including potential court action and legal sanctions.

“I feel that the reform in this shape will not increase the sense of security and justice,” Mr. Duda said at a midmorning news conference, just before scheduled meetings with leaders of the Supreme Court and the National Council of the Judiciary, both of which would have been dramatically restructured under the proposed laws.

The laws will be sent back to Parliament, which is expected to write new bills that would meet President’s Duda’s approval. Parliament could also override the president’s veto, though that would require a supermajority of 60 percent — a threshold that the governing Law and Justice Party, which has only a thin majority, could not meet without the support of other parties.

What was unclear Monday was whether the Law and Justice Party would move the issue off the front burner, at least for the moment, or whether the veto exposed a rift between Mr. Duda and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of the governing party and the most powerful political figure in the country.

“Poland needs reform of the judiciary,” Mr. Duda said, “but I am a supporter of a wise reform.”

Mr. Duda vetoed two laws. One would have forced the resignation of the entire Supreme Court and allowed the minister of justice to appoint replacements.

The other would have reconfigured the National Council of the Judiciary so that government-appointed members have more power and a virtual veto over potential judicial appointments.

A third law, which was not vetoed, would restructure local courts and give the justice minister the power to appoint the presidents of the regional courts. This bill has gotten less attention than the others, though it does increase the powers of the government.

President Trump visited Poland earlier this month and lavished praise on its government, without addressing the concerns of democracy advocates.

However, the State Department warned on Friday that “the Polish government has continued to pursue legislation that appears to undermine judicial independence and weaken the rule of law in Poland.” It added: “We urge all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland’s constitution or international legal obligations and respects the principles of judicial independence and separation of powers.”

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