Integrity of the constitutional court

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Integrity of the constitutional court

In an opening address to the 3rd Congress of the World Conference on Constitutional Justice held in Seoul, President Park Geun-hye emphasized the role of the constitutional court in uniting society by solving political, racial, cultural and social conflicts. She said the highest court must play a central role in buttressing social unity and safeguarding law and order.

The four-day conference - the largest of its kind - drew more than 500 judiciary leaders from more than 90 countries, heads of constitutional courts and chief justices of supreme courts.

Park Han-chul, president of the Constitutional Court of Korea and host of the conference, proposed to his Asian peers that they work toward establishing a regional court to address human rights issues. He said the Korean court could lead the way to enhance human rights conditions.

Since its founding in 1988, the domestic court has delivered landmark rulings that helped mitigate social conflicts, including high-profile political incidents such as the impeachment of late President Roh Moo-hyun and veto against moving the administrative capital out of Seoul. If not for the constitutional court’s level-headed decision and intervention, the country could have fallen into disarray after the legislature impeached the president in 2005.

In May that year, the highest court defined the National Assembly’s attempt to impeach Roh as unconstitutional and reinstated him to presidency. Yet it ruled that Roh’s plan to move the capital was also unconstitutional. Roh violated the constitution and laws, but not seriously enough to warrant impeachment. Some criticized the court for being politically motivated. But we cannot deny that the worst had been avoided because of its judicial decision.

There are many sensitive issues pending at the constitutional court. The controversial National Assembly Advancement Law that allows filibusters has been submitted for review for causing impasse in the legislature. Many worry that the legislature is being overly reliant on the judiciary, but it is inevitable because parliament cannot solve its own problems.

Because of its increasing role, the constitutional court may be approached by political parties and other interest groups. The court’s decisions in the past were also motivated by political and public opinion. If the court loses neutrality, it could exacerbate conflicts. The last-resort court must stay firm regardless of outside influence. Its bench also should be diversified from its current members, who are all male justices in their 50s.

JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 30, Page 34
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