By Alyssa McMurtry
OVIEDO, Spain (AA) – Spain’s Constitutional Court ruled late Monday night to freeze a vote on a draft bill for the first time in Spain’s democratic history.
Politicians were set to debate and vote in the Senate on Thursday on a legal reform passed in the parliament that would unblock a stalemate in the Constitutional Court itself.
That vote would have paved the way for Spain’s Socialist party to name two members to the judiciary’s governing council, ending four years of judicial deadlock.
The Constitutional Court, currently controlled by conservative judges, has to rule on upholding key legislation including laws on euthanasia, abortion and labor reform.
Members of Spain’s progressive government say they have no choice but to respect the court’s decision to paralyze the vote but warned of its democratic implications.
“What happened is extremely serious … the Constitutional Court has suspended the legislative action of the legitimate representatives of the Spanish people. This hasn’t happened in 44 years in Spain, nor in any other European country, and affects the fundamental separation of powers,” said Spanish Minister Felix Bolaños Garcia.
Speaker of the Spanish Congress Meritxell Batet warned that the decision threatened to “delegitimize the democratic system.” She also noted that the government would appeal the decision.
The spokesperson for Spain’s left-wing populist political party Podemos, Pablo Echenique, on Tuesday called for an emergency meeting of progressive lawmakers to try to “unblock” the Constitutional Court.
“A judicial power without democratic legitimacy has just staged a coup against the legislative power,” he tweeted.
Spain’s Constitutional Court voted six to five to suspend the Senate debate. The majority of judges justified the move by arguing that the government added the Constitutional Court reform as an amendment to a bill that had nothing to do with the reform.
Spain’s lawmakers did tack the judicial reform onto another bill aimed at modifying the penal code.
Meanwhile, opposition politicians celebrated the court’s decision.
“Today our democracy comes out stronger,” tweeted opposition leader Alberto Nunez Feijoo. “In a state of law, all powers are subject to the law. In the face of noise and pressure, we will continue defending Spain and the institutions without fear or concessions, from a place of moderation and reason.”
Progressive politicians, meanwhile, accuse Feijoo of manipulating the law so the conservatives can continue ruling even when they were voted out of office.
Commentators note that this decision of the Constitutional Court is a symptom of growing political polarization in Spain.
The situation is primed to worsen in the coming months, with national elections scheduled for 2023.