Under the pretext of reforms

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Under the pretext of reforms

It is a relief to hear President Moon Jae-in name a new nominee — Justice Lee Jin-sung — to head the Constitutional Court. The head of the highest court had been in limbo after the National Assembly voted against Moon’s first choice Justice Kim Yi-su to succeed Chief Justice Park Han-chul, who retired in January.

President Moon caused an uproar in the legislature as well as the Constitutional Court bench because he wanted to keep Kim, a left-leaning judge, as the acting chief until his term ends next year. Lee would have only served as the chief justice position until his six-year tenure ended in September 2018.

The Blue House kept Kim as the acting head and resisted finding a new nominee unless the National Assembly amended the law to stipulate a new six-year term for the chief justice regardless of their term as a justice. It only named a new nominee after the justices publicly demanded appointment of a formal head in honor of constitutional principles.

The Blue House’s choice of Lee, who was recommended by the Supreme Court Chief Justice, instead of Yoo Nam-seok, who was recently recruited by the president to fill the last vacancy in the nine-member bench of the Constitutional Court, came as a surprise. It may have been a political maneuvering to avoid the conservative opposition’s disapproval of a left-leaning new member to the court.

The Constitutional Court suffered heavily from the Blue House standoff with the legislature over the chief justice’s term and nomination. The opposition boycotted the ongoing regular parliamentary probe on state offices for the first time by criticizing the government’s attempt to keep Kim Yi-su as the acting head of the Constitutional Court despite the National Assembly’s disapproval of him. In fact, the choice of Kim, who expressed a dissident voice on the ruling to disband the Unified Progressive Party for its pro-North Korea activities, was bound to be controversial and contested by the conservatives.

Despite objections, Moon has continued to recruit liberal or left-leaning judges to the highest courts. The Blue House must stop applying an ideological yardstick to the judiciary under the pretext of reform.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 28, Page 30
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