Ruling party ups pressure on NPAD to hold hearing

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Ruling party ups pressure on NPAD to hold hearing

The ruling party stepped up pressure on main opposition lawmakers to hold a confirmation hearing for a controversial Supreme Court justice nominee after their latest attempt to schedule a session failed.

Rep. Yoo Seong-min, the floor leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, and Rep. Woo Yoon-keun, the floor leader of the main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), tried Tuesday to arrange a confirmation hearing for Park Sang-ok, nominated in January to succeed the outgoing Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul.

The talks, however, ended without an agreement as the liberal lawmakers continued to protest the nomination. Shin left the bench last month.

Park, who heads the Korea Institute of Criminology, has come under fire for his alleged involvement in covering up the torture and death of a student activist in 1987.

After Park Jong-chul, a Seoul National University student protesting the Chun Doo Hwan dictatorship, died during a police investigation, Park Sang-ok participated in the investigation on his death as a prosecutor.

Although authorities initially said the activist died from shock after being hit by an officer, the Catholic Priests’ Association for Justice later revealed that the student had been detained without an arrest warrant and waterboarded by investigators in January 1987, which resulted in his death.

The NPAD has strongly condemned Park’s nomination and has demanded he bow out, refusing to hold a confirmation hearing.

However, Saenuri floor leader Yoo said Wednesday that he still has hope the opposition will cooperate. “I demanded during the last talks that a date should be set, but the opposition party said it will assemble its lawmakers next week to think about it,” he said.

More Saenuri lawmakers spoke aggressively to pressure the NPAD, stressing that the vacancy has paralyzed the Supreme Court’s operation.

“How long will the NPAD delay the confirmation hearing?” said Rep. Kim Young-woo, a senior spokesman for the Saenuri. “Unless the opposition party wants to give up its rights and responsibilities in the National Assembly and ignore the democratic process and the Constitution, they must cooperate with the confirmation hearing.”

The Supreme Court has 14 justices, including the chief justice and the minister of national court administration. The chief justice and 12 other judges participate in trials. The jurisdiction of the nation’s highest court is exercised through either the grand bench or the petty bench. The grand bench is convened with more than two-thirds of all the justices with the chief justice presiding, while a petty bench is convened with four judges.

The court currently has three petty benches. Petty bench II has had a vacancy since Shin retired on Feb. 17. While cases for petty bench II are being reviewed by its three seated judges, some of its high-profile cases have been delayed.

Among them is a graft conviction concerning NPAD lawmaker Han Myeong-sook.

Han, a ranking member of the NPAD, was indicted in 2010 on charges of receiving 900 million won ($800,000) of illicit political funds from a businessman in 2007, when she was serving as the prime minister under the Roh Moo-hyun government.

BY SER MYO-JA [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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