[FOUNTAIN]Constitutional court’s rising prominence

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[FOUNTAIN]Constitutional court’s rising prominence

There are generally three kinds of trials that we frequently hear about. Civil actions occur between individuals over property or position. Criminal cases determine whether an individual or an organization has committed illegal acts. And administrative litigations evaluate the legitimacy of publicly decided issues. But there is a fourth kind that exerts far greater influence on society in general. It is the constitutional lawsuit, which judges a conflict over the constitution, which contains the fundamental orders of a state.
Depending on the government, either of two courts is in charge of constitutional suits. In the United States and Japan, the Supreme Court, the highest court of the judiciary system, handles constitutional lawsuits. But France and Germany have established a separate agency to take on the role. Korea follows the latter system.
The constitutional court first appeared in Germany in the early 1950s. At the time, the power of the working class was equal to that of the bourgeoisie, and even a few votes could sway an election. Thus an organization that could mediate the friction between political forces was necessary, and the constitutional court was established.
In postwar Germany, economic revival was the prime task. The constitutional court set the framework of modern capitalism by granting a comprehensive right to private property. Leftists criticized the court for being an apparatus that safeguarded the ruling power and prevented a change of the system. But the contribution of the constitutional court to the social stabilization and economic development of Germany is undeniable.
In Korea, the constitution of the Second Republic in 1960 first laid the legal ground for the establishment of the constitutional court. But the military coup in 1961, which led to the long-term regime of Park Chung Hee, nullified those efforts. The constitutional court was finally founded in 1987 under the latest constitutional revision.
Since then, the constitutional court has produced many rulings with a great social impact. But it has not yet actively intervened in the confrontations between political powers. Now that conservatives and liberals and the young and the old are opposing each other over political interests, the role of the constitutional court, and its rulings, assumes a greater significance and responsibility.


by Lee Kyu-youn

The writer is a deputy city news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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