Arrogance and stubbornnessPresident Moon Jae-in rammed through the appointment of Lee Mi-sun as Constitutional Court justice despite questions about her ethics and eligibility to serve. The president has exercised his legitimate executive power, but whether his decision is right is disputable. His action goes against broad public sentiment and deepens division, as underscored by thousands of conservatives who gathered over the weekend at an anti-government rally led by the main opposition Liberty Korea Party after the appointment.
Lee could face a prosecutorial probe as she was accused by the main opposition party of trading stocks that were related to a case she handled. Even if no illegalities were found after an investigation, she has already lost public confidence. Not many can understand why a sitting judge would put huge money in a certain company’s stock. A justice of the Constitutional Court must have the highest morality and honesty, given the repercussions of the court’s rulings on people’s lives.
The presidential office made little effort to persuade or seek understanding, and just pushed ahead with its original choice despite adverse public sentiment. The president signed off the certificate of the appointment electronically while on an overseas state visit after the National Assembly refused to submit its confirmation report. The Blue House announced the appointment with a simple statement that vacancies on the Constitutional Court bench should be filled as soon as possible. It may be thinking that the controversy will eventually die down.
The ruling party claims that public sympathy for Lee has grown after she explained her suspicious stock deals and sold off the controversial shares. The polls did show different results, but that was the result of slyly changing the questions. Lee would be the sixth liberal justice on the nine-member bench of the top court — which would allow the highest court to overturn any laws if they find them unconstitutional.
Many are questioning what the president and his administration really stand for. Despite its emphasis on morality, this Blue House has been repeatedly picking questionable candidates for top positions in the government. A poll by a progressive civic group showed that the Moon administration scored the most poorly in the category of appointments, getting a 3.5 grade out of 10 from experts.
The president has the authority to appoint senior government officials. But it does not mean he can do whatever he wants. The legislative confirmation hearing has been institutionalized to reflect public opinion. Holding the hearing is meaningless if the president ends up appointing whoever he wants.
JoongAng Sunday, April 20-21, Page 30