Bringing diversity to the court

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Bringing diversity to the court

The Supreme Court has returned to business after three of four vacancies have been filled with legislative confirmation of the nominees. The next pending issue is the appointment and confirmation of five justices for the Constitutional Court, who could shape the national legal field and offer important interpretations of basic rights over the next six years.

Justices Kim Jong-dae, Min Hyeong-ki, Lee Dong-heub and Mok Young-joon will retire on Sept. 14. The seat for former Justice Cho Dae-hyun, who retired in July of last year, is also set to be filled. Four months later, the president of the court also will be replaced.

Once all seats are filled, the Constitutional Court, which has been running without a justice for more than a year, should normalize all of its functions. The main opposition Democratic United Party recommended lawyer Cho Yong-hwan to fill Justice Cho’s seat, but his nomination was delayed by opposition from the ruling party, and in February, it was formally vetoed. Of the five vacancies, two successors will be named by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and three nominated by the National Assembly. If partisan brinkmanship gets in the way, the Constitutional Court’s operations could be jeopardized. The chief justice of the Supreme Court and the National Assembly should aim to name their nominees and launch confirmation hearings within the month.

Those appointing the new justices should first consider diversity on the bench. The Constitutional Court needs judges from diverse backgrounds more than the Supreme Court because the Constitutional Court delivers the highest rulings on various social disputes and serves as an important constitutional yardstick in settling landmark disputes.

So far, the court has fallen short of its expectations due to an imbalance of perspectives on the bench. Like the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court is dominated by male judges over 50 years of age with degrees from Seoul National University Law School.

More attention should be paid to representing the voices of women and minorities. The court must serve as a roundtable of debate that determines the best direction for Korean society. Therefore, candidates’ pasts should be fully scrutinized before they are nominated. But such an important body must also look like Korea in order to fairly represent our diverse points of view on such important issues.
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