[EDITORIALS]Tinkering with the courts

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[EDITORIALS]Tinkering with the courts

Chief Justice Lee Yong-hun recommended Kim Hwang-sik, Kim Ji-hyung and Park Si-hwan as candidates for Supreme Court justices to President Roh Moo-hyun, heralding a change in the composition of Korea’s highest court. The court said, “The chief justice selected them considering opinions within society and after examining the legal inclinations and educational background of each candidate.”
Two are from the bench and Mr. Park is a lawyer whom civic groups have been putting at the top of their candidate lists for the Supreme Court. By selecting one each from both mainstream and non-mainstream judges and a lawyer outside the court, the selection looks balanced on the surface. Judging from the fact that two candidates supported by liberal groups and labor organizations are included, the voices outside the court system are well-represented in the selection.
Especially, two out of four people whom Justice Minister Chun Jung-bae mentioned as candidates for the Supreme Court were nominated, so rumors are spreading that the basis for the nominations was a “shared code” ― a political philosophy shared with the president. Although the court claims that the nominees represent society’s diversity, the selectees fit mainly the liberal tendencies of the current administration.
If five of the Supreme Court judges and five Constitutional Court judges, including the head of the court, who will be replaced next July and September are filled in this manner, the ideological color of our highest courts will be greatly changed.
The Supreme Court should not lose its ideological balance and tilt toward one side. In addition, Seoul National University graduates are being discriminated against in the name of diversity. It is the qualifications of a judge, not which school he comes from, that should be important.
At the center of the controversy is Mr. Park. While he served in the court system, he found students who participated in violent street demonstrations not guilty and sent an appeal to the Constitutional Court to review the constitutionality of the Military Service Act, which does not recognize conscientious objectors. He led a study group of liberal lawyers, the “Uri Law Study Association,” and was one of the legal advisors of President Roh when the National Assembly impeached him last year. It is natural, as a lawyer, to listen to the voices of the weak and the minority, but a Supreme Court judge must consider other views as well.
Outside intervention in selections must be prevented. If those recommended by selected civic groups are given preferential treatment in the name of diversity, judges who sit in courtrooms and perform their duties well but quietly will be at a disadvantage. Moreover, if judges study the mood of outside organizations or deliver sentences in line with their tastes to get promotions, the independence of the judiciary will collapse.
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