Justices liable for upholding the constitutionFive justices of the nine-member Constitutional Court are scheduled to end their six-year terms before the end of this year, and nominations to fill the empty seats were made public last month.
President Roh Moo-hyun, Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hun and the National Assembly announced their nominations on Aug. 16. The replacements are expected to bring about a major turnover of the court, which has exclusive responsibility for interpreting the nation’s basic law.
The Constitutional Court of Korea was established in September 1988 under the current constitution, which followed the people’s successful movement for democracy in 1987. Based on a European model, the new independent specialized court, in addition to the Supreme Court, was formed to fully protect the people’s fundamental rights and to effectively check governmental powers.
It was, however, not the first time in Korean history that a European-style Constitutional Court had been established. Although the constitutional litigation system changed from administration to administration, Korea has kept some form of constitutional review system since 1948, the court said. The first such bodies were Constitutional Committees, which existed from 1948 to 1969, 1972 to 1981 and 1981 to 1988. The Constitutional Court briefly existed from 1960 to 1961, and an American-style judicial review system was available from 1961 to 1972.
The Constitutional Court said the system was at times actively functional, but at other times was merely ornamental. Although the national constitution guaranteed the establishment of a Constitutional Court, a sudden military coup on May 16, 1961, temporarily blocked the court from being formed.
Today’s Constitutional Court was formed under the consensus that the nation needed to create a judicial review system to match the democratic development of society.
The Constitutional Court said its functions include deciding on the constitutionality of laws, ruling on competence disputes between governmental entities, adjudicating constitutional complaints filed by individuals, giving final decisions on impeachments and making judgments on the dissolution of political parties.
The full bench of the Constitutional Court is composed of nine justices, including the chief justice, and each serves a six-year renewable term. The head of the court is appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly.
Appointments to the nine seats on the court are a divided responsibility; three are appointed by the president, three by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and three by the National Assembly.
One of the three Assembly nominees is chosen by the largest party, one by the second-largest and the third by those two parties acting in concert.
Under the Constitutional Court Act, the nine judges are appointed from among eligible persons who are forty or more years of age and has been a judge, prosecutor or attorney for 15 years or more; or a person who is qualified as an attorney and has been engaged in legal affairs for or on behalf of a government agency, a national or public enterprise, a state-invested institution or other corporation; or a person who is qualified as an attorney and has been in a position higher than an assistant professor of jurisprudence in a recognized college or university.
Earlier this month, President Roh Moo-hyun nominated Jeon Hyo-sook, who now sits on the court, as the chief justice. Ms. Jeon will resign from her position and be appointed to a new six-year term. Mr. Roh also nominated Kim Hee-ok, the vice minister of justice, to a position on the court being vacated by Song In-jun, whose term expires next month. Mr. Lee, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, also announced two nominations for the court, including that of a justice to fill the seat being vacated by Ms. Jeon. Min Hyeong-ki, the head judge of the Suwon District Court, and Kim Jong-dae, the head judge of the Changwon District Court, were named by the Supreme Court chief justice.
The National Assembly named Lee Dong-heup, of the Suwon District Court, and Mok Young-joon, deputy chief of the National Court Administration. Mr. Lee was nominated by the Grand National Party, while Mr. Mok was recommended jointly by Uri and Grand National lawmakers.
All the nominees except for those named by the National Assembly must be confirmed by that body.
During the Roh administration, the court made rulings that made headlines in domestic and international media.
In June this year, the court struck down several clauses of two new laws governing newspaper companies, a victory for the major daily newspapers here that effectively dampened an Uri Party-initiated media reform drive.
The court ruled that an article of a law known in short form as the Newspaper Act, which designated newspapers as monopolies if their market share exceeded limits alone or in tandem, was unconstitutional. That section of the law said that newspapers with 30 percent of the market, or two or three together with a combined market share of 60 percent or more, fell under the monopoly provisions of the Fair Trade Act.
In December 2005, the Constitutional Court dismissed a complaint challenging the constitutionality of new legislation to build a government administrative hub in South Chungcheong province. The ruling was in effect a green light for the Roh administration to honor its election pledge to move Korea’s administrative capital out of Seoul.
In May 2004, the Constitutional Court overturned a presidential impeachment decision by the National Assembly, restoring Mr. Roh as president. In March of that year, the legislature voted to impeach Mr. Roh over charges of illegal electioneering and incompetence.
As of June 2006, the Constitutional Court had received 13,109 petitions in total. Among them, 452 had been withdrawn and 761 were still pending.
by Ser Myo-ja
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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