DP must apologizeThe Constitutional Court last Thursday dismissed the impeachment of a former judge. The ruling had been foreseeable when the ruling Democratic Party (DP) railroaded through the impeachment of Lim Seong-geun, a senior judge of the Busan High Court, after he resigned in February.
A judge cannot be displaced unless he or she is sentenced for a crime or found to have done a serious wrong to become disqualified in renewal of their term. Renewal of the bench takes place every 10 years. A legislative impeachment has been institutionalized with the goal of preventing a judge guilty of a serious wrongdoing from undermining the credibility of the bench by keeping their seat until the next review. Many judges have been questioned for wrongdoings, but none was impeached.
Lim stood trials for abuse of power for allegedly meddling in cases related to former President Park Geun-hye. He was found innocent in both trials in lower courts. But the DP nevertheless pushed his impeachment by citing the wording in his first trial’s ruling, which defined his intervention in a ruling as being “unconstitutional.” The ruling party pushed ahead with the disgraceful action even after Lim had already stepped down from his post at the end of his term.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su’s intervention in kicking him out was even more appalling. When Lim handed in his resignation, Kim told Lim in a taped recording that he could be in an awkward “political situation” if he accepted the resignation while the ruling party was trying to impeach him.
The impeachment motion ahead of the April 15 by-elections last year was suspected to be aimed at wooing liberal voters, as well as intimidating the court for finding guilty Choe Kang-wook, head of the Open Democratic Party, a splinter of the DP.
Even if all Constitutional Court justices appointed under President Moon Jae-in had backed the impeachment, it might have stopped short of the six votes needed to legitimatize the impeachment. Progressive Justice Moon Hyoung-bae deemed the review was not worth deliberating as Lim already resigned. Lee Mi-son also dismissed the case, which left only three justices to approve of the impeachment.
Lawmakers, including former judges who had pushed the self-serving impeachment, must apologize for causing an unnecessary conflict in our society. Supreme Court Chief Justice Kim also must make a statement on his involvement in Lim’s case. Otherwise, the case could leave a poor precedent of political interference in the judiciary branch and seriously damage the principle of separation of powers.