Constitutional Court turns 25

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Constitutional Court turns 25

The Constitutional Court, a by-product of the nationwide democratization movement in 1987 that led to constitutional amendments to today’s government structure, has turned 25 years old. It has served as the last resort to defend civilian rights and constitutional values. Having reached full adult age, it must look back on its trajectory and also set a future direction.

In a commemoration ceremony Monday, Park Han-chul, chief justice of the court, said the Constitutional Court will have to serve as the center of the most substantial debates of our nation. He said justices should endeavor not only to resolve conflicts in our society, but also contribute to shaping its future values and direction. At the same time, the highest court should study changes in inter-Korean ties and prepare for post-unification constitutional problems so that it will be fully ready when such decisions are needed.

As the chief justice has said, the Constitutional Court exists to “unite the nation and society.” Over the years, the court has made landmark rulings, paving the way for confiscation of the wealth by Japanese collaborators during colonial days, declaring the emergency arrests and military actions of the Park Chung Hee regime unconstitutional, and vetoing a legislative motion to impeach former President Roh Moo-hyun.

The Constitutional Court now has to make bigger strides. The National Assembly has been passing excessive populist laws one after another. Thanks to sagacious decisions from the bench, most of the unjust laws made under authoritarian regimes have been fixed. The court must continue to review the constitutionality of questionable legislation strictly and fairly to help enhance legal stability and credibility. The public will not be able to accept and trust the Constitutional Court if it suddenly overthrows a decision that it repeatedly upheld in the past. A new justice on the bench should not influence the overall direction of the court’s rulings.

The court also needs to end the conflict it has with another high court: the Supreme Court. It will only trouble the people if the rulings and views vary widely in the nation’s two highest courts. Some law experts and judges demand a right to file a constitutional appeal on court rulings, while others suggest the two institutions be united in order to resolve the conflict once and for all. We hope the two institutions find a solution to the issue so that they can defend civilian rights and save costs.
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