Moon keeps acting chief justice, defying Assembly

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Moon keeps acting chief justice, defying Assembly


President Moon Jae-in, left, walks with Kim Yi-su, right, the acting chief justice of the Constitutional Court, into a luncheon meeting room in the Blue House on Tuesday. [YONHAP]

President Moon Jae-in decided to keep Kim Yi-su as acting chief justice of the Constitutional Court, even after the National Assembly rejected his nomination, the Blue House said on Tuesday.

“In a meeting last month, the Constitutional Court justices agreed to have Kim continue his post as the acting head of the Constitutional Court,” said Presidential spokesman Park Soo-hyun in a press briefing at the Blue House. “And the Blue House decided to keep Kim as the acting head.”

Moon nominated Kim as chief Constitutional Court justice in May, but the National Assembly rejected Kim in a vote last month. The vote itself was delayed for months over partisan disagreements.

Kim has been serving as acting chief justice of the Constitutional Court since March 14, one day after then-acting chief justice, Lee Jung-mi, who read the court’s decision to oust then-President Park Geun-hye in a landmark verdict on March 9, stepped down from the nine-member bench upon serving out her six-year term.

Kim’s six-year term is to end on Sept. 19, 2018. The Blue House did not specify how long Kim is to serve as acting chief justice.

The Constitution limits the term of Constitutional Court justices to six years, but does not designate the term in office for the court’s chief justice. The chief justice is appointed by the president among the court’s nine justices, with the consent of the National Assembly.

Moon could appoint a new justice to the Constitutional Court, which has one seat open after Lee’s term ended in March, who could then be appointed as the next chief justice.

Moon did nominate a new justice, Lee You-jung, in August, but she gave up her nomination last month over controversy over the money she made on the stock market.

Moon could also appoint a chief justice among the eight justices of the Constitutional Court, but four of them are to end their term in September next year and another four of them have been described as having a more conservative political leaning, having been appointed during the former administration led by Park Geun-hye.

But instead of taking these actions, the Blue House said Tuesday it decided to maintain Lee’s posting as acting head of the Constitutional Court until the National Assembly makes more progress with two bills on the table.

Two bills have been submitted at the National Assembly concerning the appointment of the Constitutional Court chief justice. One is about setting the term of the court’s chief justice to six years from the point he or she is appointed. Until now, chief justices have served only for the remainder of their six-year term from when they were appointed as a Constitutional Court justice. The other bill is about limiting the right of the chief justice of the Supreme Court to nominate three Constitutional Court justices.

Opposition parties criticized Moon’s decision.

“The president is intentionally ignoring the decision of the National Assembly [to reject his nomination of Kim],” said Liberty Korea Party Rep. Yoo Ki-june. “He has placed Kim as the acting chief justice in a one-manned manner.”

“When the National Assembly rejected Kim’s nomination for chief justice of the Constitutional Court, it meant that the Assembly saw Kim as unfit as a justice for the court,” said Liberty Korea Party spokeswoman Jun Hee-kyung in a written statement. “The Moon administration is challenging not only the Assembly but the people.”

“If Kim is nominated, he will place into jeopardy the independence of the Constitutional Court,” said Bareun Party spokesman Jeon Ji-myeong after the Assembly rejected Moon’s nomination of Kim. “Moon had better appoint someone who is politically neutral.”

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