IT’S BEGINNING to look as though interaction with President Trump causes some governments to lose their political inhibitions. Following a May summit in Saudi Arabia, at which Mr. Trump and Arab leaders lavished love on each other, Egypt adopted a draconian law on civil society groups, while the Saudis and several allies launched a counterproductive boycott of neighboring Qatar, host of a major U.S. base. Now comes Poland, which days after being lauded by Mr. Trump as “an example for others who seek freedom” has seen its right-wing government push a package of laws that could eliminate the independence of its judiciary.
The initiatives by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party represent a major step in what already has been a steady campaign to erode independent institutions and legal checks and balances. The right-wing populist party, which obtained a majority in Parliament in 2015 despite winning less than half the national vote, started by subverting the independence and authority of the Constitutional Tribunal. It then converted what had been relatively independent state-owned media into propaganda outlets.
The actions brought condemnations from the European Union as well as sharp criticism from the Obama administration. Given the priority that PiS leaders place on close relations with Washington, the U.S. pressure likely had a restraining influence. But in his visit to Warsaw on July 6, Mr. Trump had nothing to say in defense of the rule of law; instead, he lauded Poland as an ally in the defense of Western “civilization.”
Six days later came the boldest assault yet by PiS on the separation of powers. Two bills pushed through Parliament in a single day drastically changed the procedure for selecting judges and protecting their independence. One law would restructure the National Council of the Judiciary, which selects judicial candidates, so that most of its members would be chosen by Parliament. The other would allow the justice minister to remove the chief justices of all common courts.
While the legal establishment and political opposition were still reeling from that coup, the government abruptly introduced a third and still more radical measure, requiring the retirement of all 83 appellate judges on Poland’s supreme court, except for those exempted by the president. Replacements would be installed by the government or by the new, party-controlled judicial council. As the vice president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, rightly described it, the cumulative effect would be to place the “judiciary under full political control of the government” and “considerably increase the systematic threats to the rule of law in Poland.”
Pushback from Brussels and mass demonstrations across Poland appear to be doing nothing to stop this assault. On Friday, Parliament was moving toward final passage of the supreme court law, and President Andrzej Duda, who is aligned with PiS, was expected to sign all three bills. The European Commission could try to punish Poland, but action could be blocked by Warsaw’s illiberal ally, Hungary.
The Trump administration, for its part, appears barely aware of the authoritarian blitzkrieg launched in the president’s wake. On Friday, the State Department issued a bland statement calling on “all sides to ensure that any judicial reform does not violate Poland’s constitution,” while saying it was “confident about the strength of Poland’s democracy.” That faith hardly seems warranted — and if Mr. Trump himself is perturbed by the impending liquidation of the “freedom” he lauded, there’s no sign of it.