Our roiled judiciaryFrench political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville published the book “Democracy in America” in 1840 after a tour of the United States to see what a great republic it was. He wrote, “The peace, the prosperity, and the very existence of the Union are vested in the hands of the seven judges (of the Supreme Court of the United States.)” A sovereign judiciary remains the last resort to defend U.S. democracy. The terms of justices on the top bench are for life and their sovereignty is ensured by the Constitution to uphold judiciary neutrality and fairness.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts immediately issued a statement to rebuke President Donald Trump for a contemptuous remark about a judge who ruled against am executive order which prohibited people in a caravan from Central America applying for political asylum. Trump called the judge “an Obama judge.” Roberts wrote, “We do not have Obama judges, or Trump judges, Bush judges, or Clinton judges … What we have is an extraordinary group of dedicated judges doing their level best to do equal right to those appearing before them. That independent judiciary is something we should all be thankful for.”
Last year, Roberts, a conservative appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, backed Trump’s immigration travel ban on Muslims. Still, he did not tolerate Trump’s attack on the independent judiciary. The dignity of the U.S. Supreme Court evokes envy from Koreans, who are increasingly skeptical of their judges’ political independence.
Justices who served under former Supreme Court Chief Justice Yang Sung-tae have been summoned to the prosecutor’s office one by one. They are accused of interfering with trials to curry favor with the presidential office of disgraced President Park Geun-hye.
The scandal has deepened a divide in the judiciary. A group of judges that emerged as the new mainstream under liberal Chief Justice Kim Myung-soo has been demanding expulsion of sitting judges implicated in the power abuse scandal. A senior judge has called on conservative judges to form an opposition front to impeach the liberal group of judges for encouraging an uprising in the judiciary.
Chief Justice Kim Myoung-su is failing to show leadership. Public trust in the judiciary has fallen to the extent that people involved in litigation are investigating the ideological tendency of the judges assigned to their cases. It is a pity that we can only envy the Americans for their independent bench.