A constitutional disaster

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A constitutional disaster

The Constitutional Court has been running with a vacancy for a year since Justice Cho Dae-hyun retired last July. The problem vividly illustrates how a major function of a state can fall victim to the incompetence of and discord among our politicians.

It all began in June last year when the main opposition Democratic United Party - which retained the right to recommend a candidate for the vacant seat - picked lawyer Cho Yong-hwan. During the vetting process at the National Assembly, however, the ruling Saenuri Party made an issue of his past cynical remarks on the sinking of Cheonan warship in the tense maritime border dispute with North Korea a year earlier. That caused the appointment procedure to be much delayed as the DUP’s choice was thwarted by the ruling party in a plenary session of the Assembly last February. The DUP recently vowed to push him forward again, but Cho refused to accept the nomination.

In the meantime, the Constitutional Court, a quintessential pillar in our judiciary system, has been running off track - even forgoing critical deliberations on many cases of great significance. According to the court, only 38 cases were declared “unconstitutional” for a year from last July, while twice as many cases were said to have violated the Constitution in 2010. That’s because the court lacks the quorum it typically requires to reach a legal conclusion.

After sending an open letter in the name of its head, Lee Kang-kook, to the Assembly speaker last February, the court dispatched its secretary general to repeatedly urge lawmakers to address the personnel situation that is crippling the court. If unconstitutional laws are not examined by the court, there will certainly be negative effects on the population as a whole. Citizens’ rights will not be protected.

Yet the ruling and opposition parties continue to focus on the December presidential election instead of the judiciary crisis.

In a retirement speech yesterday, Kim Neung-hwan, an outgoing justice at the Supreme Court, expressed deep regrets over the shameful practice in the National Assembly where “the process for appointing my successor began today even though my departure date was fixed six years ago,” referring to the four vacancies that exist on the Supreme Court.

Lawmakers must answer the citizens’ question: Who is accountable for our country’s crippled courts?
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