Protests against a new law forcing more than a third of Supreme Court justices to step down continued across Poland Wednesday.
Nobel Prize-winning Solidarity founder Lech Walesa was among the marchers in Warsaw. He told a cheering crowd outside the Supreme Court that the country's right-wing leaders must go.
“He who breaks the constitution and the division of powers is a criminal. We must do everything to send these people away and vote to choose different people,” Walesa said.
He predicted the government’s actions may lead to civil war.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki defended the decision to lower the retirement age for justices before the European Parliament Wednesday.
Morawiecki said judicial reform is needed and justices must be more accountable to the Polish people. He called changing the retirement age constitutional. He also accused other EU members of waging a “campaign” against the democratically elected government of another state.
But many EU leaders are not buying it, saying Polish democracy is at stake and accuse the conservative government of trying to take control of the courts.
Earlier Wednesday, hundreds cheered as Supreme Court First President Malgorzata Gersdorf showed up for work in defiance of the new rule.
“My presence here is not about politics. I am here to protect the rule of law,” Gersdorf told reporters.
The new law reduces the mandatory retirement age from 70 to 65.
Gersdorf is 65 and refused to apply for an extension, saying the constitution allows her to stay on the bench until her term expires in 2020.
Gersdorf, a strong critic of the ruling conservative Law and Justice party, calls the law a “purge conducted in the Supreme Court ... under the pretext of the retrospective change in retirement age.”