[EDITORIALS]A judge’s chance, and ours

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[EDITORIALS]A judge’s chance, and ours

The National Assembly’s confirmation hearing for Jeon Hyo-sook, the Constitutional Court chief judge designate, faced rough going due to the issue of unconstitutionality surrounding the designation process. The hearing resumed yesterday afternoon after initial complications, but the possibility of more trouble still remains. The opposition parties ― mainly the Grand National Party and the Democratic Party ― are in the position to further discuss whether a separate confirmation hearing is needed for Ms. Jeon.
Needless to say, President Roh Moo-hyun and Blue House officials had this controversy coming. From the time the news media reported that Ms. Jeon was a possible designate for the post, lawyers had debated the issue of the designation process. The Constitution prescribes, in the 4th clause of the 111th article, that the chief justice of the Constitutional Court is appointed from among the judges by the president, with the approval of the National Assembly. Therefore, if Ms. Jeon as the incumbent judge was appointed chief judge, she only three years would remain from her six-year term. Nevertheless, the Blue House used an expedient measure to guarantee her six years in the term, by having her resign her post as judge, then designating her again.
Of course, it may be too formal to demand separate designation processes for the judge and the chief judge posts. Still, the Constitutional Court chief judge is a head of the highest machinery of law, protecting and interpreting the Constitution. Therefore, it would be hard for the public to recognize an appointee’s authority, when she is caught in the legality issue stemming from the designation process.
We also recognize that Ms. Jeon said she resigned the post after receiving a call from the Blue House senior secretary for civil affairs. Ms. Jeon added, “That was only following the formalities, which were not done in coordination with the Blue House.” Still, this is not the issue for such an evasive answer. Ms. Jeon has also faced criticism that she was appointed to the post because she shares the same political stance as the Roh administration, because she passed the bar examination the same year that Mr. Roh did.
The appointment of the Constitutional Court chief judge must be faithful to the law. Without political neutrality, the very basics of democracy, checks and balances, are broken. This is an opportunity for the term of the Constitutional Court chief judge to be expressly stipulated.
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