Poland passes bill to make it easier for ruling party to replace Supreme Court head

Malgorzata Gersdorf, the current head of the Supreme Court, has refused to step down.

(CNN)Lawmakers in Poland approved a judicial reform bill Friday that will make it easier for the ruling party to appoint a new head of the Supreme Court, despite opposition from civic rights protesters and the European Union.

The legislation, the latest judicial reform proposed by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), was passed in Poland's lower house by 230 votes to 24, with four abstentions. 202 members of parliament, including all 136 from the main opposition party, did not vote.
It comes on the heels of a controversial law mandating that all Supreme Court judges over the age of 65 must retire. That law forced 27 of the 72 judges off the bench, including chief justice Malgorzata Gersdorf, and triggered legal action by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, amid concern that it would erode judicial independence.
    The latest legislation had its first reading in the lower house Thursday, followed by further stormy debate into Friday as the PiS sought to rush through reforms on the last day before the summer recess starts.
    On Friday, several hundred protesters gathered outside parliament, shouting "shame" and "Europe, don't abandon us."
    The bill will now go for approval to the upper house of parliament, which sits for one more week, and then to the president for ratification.
    Among other measures, the law would allow a successor to Gersdorf to be chosen when only two-thirds of the positions on the Supreme Court are filled, rather than requiring almost all positions to be occupied first, as has been the case.
    The European Commission announced on July 2 that it had launched an infringement procedure against Warsaw over the law forcing the retirement of judges and gave the Polish government one month to respond. The matter could end up before the European Court of Justice, the bloc's highest court.
    The government is keen to push through its latest reforms quickly so that it can appoint a new chief justice without having to have so many new judges in place -- and before the European Union can intervene.
    A woman dressed as a Supreme Court judge holds a copy of the Polish constitution during a protest Thursday.