Constitutional Court to undergo marked overhaul

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Constitutional Court to undergo marked overhaul

The Constitutional Court will undergo a massive change to its bench as four of its nine justices will complete their terms next month.

Justices Kim Jong-dae, Min Hyeong-ki, Lee Dong-heub and Mok Young-joon will finish their six-year tenures as of Sept. 14. In addition to the four upcoming appointments, the court will also seek to fill the vacancy that has remained open for more than one year.

Cho Dae-hyun retired from the bench on July 10, 2011, but the ruling and opposition parties have failed to agree on a successor for over a year.

Cho Yong-hwan, a progressive lawyer, was recommended by the opposition Democratic United Party, but the conservative ruling Saenuri Party voted down the nomination, challenging his ideological standing.

With the political deadlock and delayed appointment, the Constitutional Court operated with only eight judges on the bench.

“The selection and nomination take about a month,” said a Constitutional Court official. “Taking that into account, the search should begin next week.”

Established in 1988 under the current Constitution, the Constitutional Court was established as an independent court to uphold the 1987 democratization.

Separate from the Supreme Court, it rules on the constitutionality of laws and competence disputes between government entities and adjudicates constitutional complaints.

It also gives the final decision on the impeachment and dissolution of a political party.

The president, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court chief justice each have the right to appoint three judges to the Constitutional Court.

Of the five vacancies to be created by next month, Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae has the right to appoint two. The National Assembly will find judges to fill the remaining three vacancies.

Of the three justices to be appointed by the National Assembly, the ruling Saenuri Party will recommend one candidate while the largest opposition Democratic United Party will nominate another. The third justice will be decided on together by the two parties.

“We are not worried about the appointments to be made by the Supreme Court chief justice,” the official said.

“But concerns are high in the Constitutional Court about whether or not the National Assembly will be able to carry out the selection process and confirmation hearings for its share of three judges.”

The process will also be affected by the Supreme Court’s search for a new justice candidate. After Kim Byung-hwa, a senior prosecutor with the Incheon District Prosecutors’ Office, gave up his nomination last month due to a corruption scandal, the Supreme Court has begun the process of finding a new candidate. It aims to complete the selection by late September.

Because some of the candidates considered for the two courts’ benches are expected to overlap, concerns grew in the judiciary over the possible shortage of qualified nominees.

“It is possible that the candidate pools will have some overlap,” said a Supreme Court official. “But the Supreme Court chief justice and the National Assembly will work to make adjustments so that no candidate will overlap in the final stage of nominations.”

He also said it was common in the past for the two courts to look into the same pool of candidates.

“It just means that the candidates have strong qualifications,” he said.

By Ser Myo-ja, Moon Byung-joo [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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