The endangered men on the courtThe position of chief justice was created in Korea in 1945 when the United States Army Military Government in Korea came into power following the country’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. The USAMGIK changed the judicial system and renamed the institutions as the Supreme Court, the Appeals Court and the District Court. The titles of chief justice and justice were introduced as well. The Judiciary of the Republic of Korea gained legitimacy from the Supreme Court, organized after the Constitution was established. In August 1948, the Syngman Rhee administration appointed six supreme justices to the bench and named Kim Byeong-ro as the first chief justice.
Back then, there were no female judges in Korea. Attorney Lee Tae-young became the first legal professional in Korea in 1951, but she was not a justice. The first female justice, Hwang Yun-seok, was appointed in 1954. However, female judges were still very rare in the ’50s and ’60s. In the 1970s, more women gradually began working in the judicial system. In 2004, 56 years after the founding of the Republic of Korea, Kim Young-ran became the first female Supreme Court justice in the country. Two years later, Jeon Su-an was appointed as the second woman to sit on the court.
The Supreme Court has the final judgment on individual cases and the final interpretation of the law. Therefore, the verdicts are dependent upon who has been appointed to the court. So these judges must free themselves of bias and remain objective. They need to be free from academic, regional and religious affiliations. They should be able to embrace the interests and demands of various segments of society. Justice Kim, whose six-year term will expire next month, is considered to have represented the voices of social minorities during her tenure. She played a key role in the 2005 ruling that abolished the hojuje, or family registration system.
In the United States, the recent nomination of a woman to the Supreme Court is again creating delicate ripples. If confirmed, Elena Kagan will become the fourth female justice in the history of the court, and three of the nine seats on the court will be filled by women. Kagan, who was the dean of Harvard Law School but never served as a judge, was nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama. His choice suggests that gender has become an important criteria in the nomination of justices in the U.S.
In Korea, only two of the 14 Supreme Court justices are female. However that number will soon dwindle to one, since the list of candidates to fill the vacancy left by Justice Kim does not include any women. Since half of our population is female, the Supreme Court should reflect the gender ratio present in society. But I think Korean women do not need to worry. Today, the overwhelming majority of judges is female. At this rate, it may be hard to find a man on the bench 10 years from now.
The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Ko Dae-hoon
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