A critical dereliction of dutyThe Constitutional Court has been without a chief justice for more than two months. President Park Geun-hye has been unable to find a suitable candidate since Lee Dong-heub, nominated by Lee Myung-bak, withdrew amid criticism and allegations of past wrongs and unethical behavior. Song Doo-hwan, who has been acting chief justice since former head Lee Kang-kook retired on Jan. 21, completed his term on Friday. For the first time since its creation in 1988, the Constitutional Court may not be able to properly function because the nine-member decision-making panel will be minus two necessary members. By law, the Constitutional Court can still run with seven justices, but a ruling requires a consensus from at least six.
The last failed candidate was the choice of the former president. The new president has neglected her duty by not coming up with new nomination over the past month. The candidate must go through a confirmation hearing, which means that the Constitutional Court’s chief post may not be filled any time soon. Worse, the government hadn’t even come up with a name until yesterday.
The president and her government may argue that they couldn’t afford to search for a candidate because they were busy wrangling over the government organization plan with the legislature. But the Constitutional Court is one of the country’s highest courts, which rules on grave matters like the constitutionality of policies and laws, impeachment motions and the dissolution of political parties. The court’s chief justice ranks equally with the Supreme Court chief justice, the National Assembly speaker and the prime minister. The post is of a higher rank than a cabinet minister. An organization cannot function normally without a boss.
A seven-justice court is possible. But a decision is not. A ruling on constitutionality requires approval by two-thirds of the judges. Six out of seven must reach an agreement to deliver a ruling. The court cannot be expected to perform normally. The Constitutional Court decided to break its long tradition of announcing a ruling on the last Thursday of the month. This month’s ruling was instead announced on Thursday while there were still eight members on the justice panel.
There are socially sensitive cases pending, including a constitutional review of the use of chemical castration for child rapists and an extension of election voting hours. There are many individuals and groups awaiting decisions from the Constitutional Court. The government must immediately follow up on the confirmation hearing for the last-minute choice.