Judicial independence is keyIn his final address, retiring Constitutional Court Chief Justice Lee Jin-sung suggested the court keep its distance to maintain its neutrality and independence from the powers who have say in organizing the bench — the president, the Supreme Court chief justice and the National Assembly. The constitutional courtroom must function as “the uncompromising compass headed for the single goal of navigating towards perfect democracy,” he stressed. The judiciary in a democracy should be completely free from the ruling political power.
The highest court will stay dysfunctional temporarily as five of the nine-members have retired in mass due to the terminations of their six-year terms. The vacancies will be filled after the nominees gain National Assembly endorsement. The main opposition disapproves of the picks by the Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su — Lee Seok-tae and Lee Eun-ae — for their left-leaning ruling records.
Kim, who was chosen by President Moon, has been under fire for his preference of liberal judges. He publicly vowed to cooperate with the prosecution’s investigations of rulings under former chief justice Yang Seung-tae after Moon spoke of allegations of power abuse under Yang. Judges complain that their chief equally kowtows to the administrative power and undermines the principle of separation of three branches of the government.
Using his rights to name three members in the Supreme Court, he nominated figures from the human rights community and left-leaning groups. Out of 14 justices, three are from a group of liberal-minded judges, the Society for Our Law.
The left and right in the U.S. Supreme Court are mostly determined by their judgment over individual rights versus national value in contentious rulings over abortion, immigration and same-sex marriage. But political propensity divides the Korean court. The judiciary can never revive public confidence if it loses balance. Judges under the judiciary administration office are still facing a prosecutorial probe. The judiciary must step in to defend the court’s independence. Only when it maintains healthy tension with the administration can it function well.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 20, Page 30