Respect the bench

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Respect the bench

The judges of the Constitutional Court issued a statement demanding President Moon Jae-in quickly name a chief justice instead of leaving the seat vacant and having the highest court led by an acting chief. It said that a prolonged vacancy of the chief justice, who is also a member of the nine-member bench, can undermine the integrity of the top court in charge of upholding the constitution.

The eight members on the bench challenged the president’s decision, or lack of decision, to appoint a new chief to follow the current left-leaning acting chief whose nomination as the top justice was voted down by the legislature.

The same court that has removed the former president is now challenging the new president because, first of all, he has disturbed constitutional order. The president has a duty to form the constitutional court. When his choice of Kim Yi-su was rejected by the national assembly, Moon should have respected the decision and made a new appointment. But he has left the court in limbo by keeping it under the responsibility of Kim as acting chief. The presidential office announced that the court would be kept under Kim because “the bench unanimously agreed on the status quo.”

But the judges made it clear that they agreed to the disposition only until a new chief formerly takes office, and did not mean that Kim heads the bench until he officially retires in September next year. The presidential office has angered the Constitutional Court through its self-serving justification and undermined the legislative decision as well as the independence of the judiciary.

The bench may have not publicly denounced the president if the chief of staff and chief secretary of civilian affairs served the president well. They should have advised against the president publicly criticizing the opposition parties on his Facebook page for voting against Kim and insuring that he would head the bench until he retires with the acting title. They are committing a crime if they are out to disregard and distort the public opinion.

Former President Park Geun-hye was impeached, removed, and is now behind bars because she was accused of disregarding the law. The crime of sharing her elected power with a friend with no public title was heavier than bribery. The court agreed on the legislative impeachment primarily because it concluded that Park had no intention of upholding the Constitution.

Moon must take responsibility for the crisis at the Constitutional Court. He must respect the bench’s call to fully form the nine-member court under a legitimate chief justice. He must name a neutral figure that would be approved by the legislature. He will be inviting more trouble if he sticks to his guns on this issue.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 18, Page 34
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