On the Relative Irrelevance of Constitutional Design: Lessons from Poland

The paper starts by asking whether was a proper constitutional ‘design’ in the case of Poland, considering the contingencies of the current constitutional set-up. It then provides an account of certain patterns of constitutional breaches which have been commonplace since 2015, and which render reflections on the resilience of constitutional design problematic. A case study on the Constitutional Tribunal shows how the authorities managed to convert it into an active helper of the legislative majority and executive. More general observations are offered on the relationship between constitutional design and the ‘human factor’ occasioned by Polish democratic backsliding, and on the possibility for ‘institutional self-defense’ within democratic constitutional design. The paper concludes that formal institutions must be underwritten by norms which are by-and-large shared, and by common understandings about what counts as a norm violation, even if formal legal rules are silent about it.