Nation’s top two courts in ongoing power battleThe ongoing power struggle between the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court was once again triggered by a recent ruling.
Constitutional Court justices overturned a previous ruling by the Supreme Court, throwing into doubt which one is the nation’s highest court.
On Dec. 27, the Constitutional Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to regard a contract worker for a local government as a public servant, even if he acted in the role of a civil servant.
The ruling differed with the Supreme Court’s previous ruling.
In September 2011, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling that convicted two professors of bribery.
The professors were hired as environmental advisers by the Jeju Provincial Government between 2005 and 2007 and received 270 million won ($253,687) in total from local businessmen in return for glossing over the inspections of their companies.
At the time, the Supreme Court said although the professors are not government officials, they acted as civil servants, so they should be punished for bribery.
However, professors said it’s not fair to consider outsiders as public servants. They filed an appeal to the Constitutional Court regarding the State Public Officials Act that defines civil servants.
And finally, the Constitutional Court said it’s not constitutional to consider the professors as civil servants and punish them, because it “violates the principle of legality.”
In Korea, the role of the Constitutional Court is restricted to judging the constitutionality of a certain law.
So in general, the Constitutional Court judges don’t determine whether a ruling of the Supreme Court is constitutional or not.
It is very rare for the Constitutional Court to make a different interpretation of a law that actually overturns the ruling of the Supreme Court. In most cases, it is the Supreme Court that makes the final ruling.
But even if the Constitutional Court does overrule its verdict, the Supreme Court typically doesn’t allow a retrial in that case for that reason. The case is often sent down to a lower court for appeal.
However, in 1996, the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court had different opinions on an income tax law, and the Constitutional Court eventually ordered the Supreme Court to withdraw its previous ruling, which was unprecedented since the Constitution was amended in 1987.
The case fizzled out because the defendant then didn’t file an appeal.
“Most of the things in the Constitution were already amended in 1987,” a high-ranking official at the Supreme Court told the JoongAng Ilbo. “The Constitution’s justices are just trying to attract public attention and prove their social status.”
By Kim Hee-jin [firstname.lastname@example.org ]