- Associated Press - Friday, July 20, 2018

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s parliament voted Friday to approve legislation that will make it easier for the ruling party to appoint the president and members of the Supreme Court and influence judges.

It was the latest development in the right-wing ruling party’s overhaul of the justice system that has sparked outrage from the opposition and from international organizations of law experts. European Union leaders say the changes threaten member Poland’s rule of law and have opened sanctioning procedures.

Dominated by the ruling Law and Justice party, the lower house voted 230-24 with four abstentions to approve the legislation that will also make it easier for the party to influence the work of judges in lower courts.

Some party opponents protested before the parliament building.

In the heated debate, opposition lawmakers said Law and Justice was dealing a deadly blow to Poland’s justice system.

Piotr Misilo, of the Modern party, said Law and Justice members will be taken to court for their actions and said that in his opinion “Law and Justice should be outlawed.”

The job and the independence of the Supreme Court’s chief justice are at the center of a major political battle.

Law and Justice considers Judge Malgorzata Gersdorf to be retired in light of recent legislation that lowered age limits for judges. Gersdorf, however, has continued to show up for work, insisting that, according to the constitution, her term runs until early 2020.

Earlier Friday, President Andrzej Duda said he is hoping to win approval for a November referendum on whether the country’s constitution should be changed and if so to what extent.

Duda, who thinks the 1997 constitution needs revising, is urging the Senate to give its approval for the Nov. 10-11 referendum of 10 questions. These include whether the constitution should confirm Poland’s European Union and NATO memberships, its Christian roots, the right-wing government’s policy of family bonuses as well as everyone’s right to work.

The proposed timing of the referendum, marking 100 years of Poland’s independence, may conflict with key local elections scheduled to be held around that time.

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