Minorities need a voiceThree justice nominees to the Supreme Court have been confirmed by the National Assembly, returning the highest court back to almost normal business after 22 days of hiatus due to bench vacancies since four retired last month. Ko Young-han, Kim Shin, and Kim Chang-suk have joined the Supreme Court, but they fall short of expectations to add diversity to the bench.
A diverse bench is deemed essential for an impartial court, as the judiciary is a rare branch where members are not elected in a democratic process. With the joining of the three new justices, the Supreme Court bench has become imbalanced with 50-something male court judges who studied at Seoul National University Law School.
Among the 13 members - including the chief justice and the minister of court administration - Park Poe-young is the only female justice. Eleven are graduates of SNU. Most have served as senior judges in lower courts, and only two were recruited from outside - Yang Chang-soo was a law professor and Park a lawyer.
The bench is now also heavily conservative. The so-called five radicals on the Supreme Court bench who were appointed during the liberal Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations have all retired, raising concerns about a diminished voice for minorities, weaker parties and women.
There is still one vacancy left after nominee Kim Byung-wha withdrew his nomination for causing a delay in the confirmation vote because of the partisan dispute over his eligibility. The Supreme Court’s nomination committee will be reorganized to come up with a new candidate.
It needs to come up with a figure who would add diversity to the bench. The Supreme Court as the court of last resort has a duty to set the direction for the society and defend public lives and property. Also, its primary role is to protect the rights of minorities in a majority-ruling society.
The Supreme Court bench should be fully aware of the apprehension and try harder to ease concerns about partiality.
Moreover, the new members must keep the criticism over their religious and political inclinations which were underscored during the confirmation hearings in mind when they take the bench.
It is up to the justices to uphold the dignity of the country’s highest court.