Beware ideological biasControversy surrounding President Moon Jae-in’s recent nomination of a left-leaning justice, Kim Yi-soo, to be chief justice of the Constitutional Court stems from a minority opinion he delivered in a 2014 case. Some pundits criticize him for his persistently leftist views, while others support him on the grounds of diversity in constitutional interpretation.
During Wednesday’s confirmation hearing at the National Assembly, there was heated debate among lawmakers over the minority view he presented on the constitutionality of disbanding the leftist Unified Progressive Party. At the time, Kim adhered to his position that the purpose and activities of the radical party did not violate the basic order of our democracy. His judgment obviously went against the Supreme Court’s ruling that eventually sentenced the party’s ringleader, Lee Seok-ki, to nine years in jail for treason in the following year.
Now, concern is growing that the Constitutional Court might rapidly lean to one side if he takes office. If Kim wants to lead the Constitutional Court, he needs to narrow the perception gap between the public and himself. In the court’s trial over the constitutionality of disbanding the Unified Progressive Party, he was the only justice on the nine-member bench to oppose dissolution of the party.
He made a similar decision in the Constitutional Court’s trial over the constitutionality of a law disbanding the belligerent Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union. In the trial, he opposed the majority opinion, saying the law overly restricts the union’s right to organize. Kim went so far as to write 180 pages of the 347-page ruling on his own.
Kim said he took a different path because “we should not regard the political orientation of an extremely small number of party members as representing that of the entire party.” Despite his consistent logic against the fallacy of generalization, his arguments can easily invite the misunderstanding that he embraces radical parties.
As the nominee said, “Minority opinions can become majority views sooner or later.” But he must refrain from self-righteousness and obstinacy when it comes to interpreting our laws, even though he fortunately fully accepted the Constitutional Court’s 2014 ruling in favor of breaking up the Unified Progressive Party.
As the Constitutional Court plays a more powerful role in our conflict-ridden society, ordinary citizens are paying keen attention to who the chief justice will be. The unique court has been handing down historic rulings, especially on the impeachments of former presidents Park Geun-hye and Roh Moo-hyun. Picking a qualified chief justice carries great significance now.
The Constitutional Court is the last bastion of protection for our Constitution and basic rights of the people. They are asking if Kim really fits the role six years down the road.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 8, Page 34