The new chiefLee Kang-kook, the chief justice of the Constitutional Court, officially assumed the post yesterday as President Roh Moo-hyun gave him his letter of appointment. Earlier, Mr. Lee completed the National Assembly’s confirmation hearing, and the Assembly approved Mr. Lee. This ended the unprecedented absence at the top post of the Constitutional Court that lasted for four months, since Mr. Roh’s earlier nominee, Jeon Hyo-sook, failed to win the Assembly approval.
Mr. Lee shoulders a heavier responsibility. He should restore the status of the Constitutional Court, and he has another job ― to protect the highest court from outside political pressure.
The controversy over Ms. Jeon, the failed designate, came from President Roh’s political avarice. Mr. Roh first led Ms. Jeon to resign from her seat as an associate justice on the Constitutional Court, where Ms. Jeon had served for three years. It was Mr. Roh’s idea to give Ms. Jeon a full six-year term in the top post. Ms. Jeon is known to share the president’s liberal views. But Mr. Roh’s plan led to a controversy about a violation of the Constitution, which states that the chief of the Constitutional Court must be named from among the incumbent judges.
Mr. Roh is responsible for this, but we also have to note that the staff at the Constitutional Court also urged Mr. Roh to handle the nomination that way. This is why Mr. Lee should take the responsibility to restore the damaged status of the nation’s highest court.
The Constitutional Court, more than ever, must be politically neutral. Ideological conflict has reached a peak amid similar strife in the Assembly. Under the circumstances, the public tends to take all politically sensitive issues to the Constitutional Court. The former chief justice, Yun Young-chul, said in his farewell speech, “It was like a voyage along the rough sea in a vortex of ideologies and interests.”
Mr. Roh’s proposed constitutional amemdment adds another element to the problem. The Constitutional Court therefore must be able to keep its balance and its distance from politics. This is the only way that the court can free itself from political attacks and keep society stable.
The rulings of the Constitutional Court must be respected and they must bring stability to society. The court has kept that balance, in rejecting a move of the capital and the impeachment of the president.
We expect Mr. Lee to show courage.