Posted May. 20, 2017 07:15,
Updated May. 20, 2017 07:30
President Moon Jae-in nominated Kim Yi-su, an incumbent Constitutional Court justice, for the post of president of the Constitutional Court on Friday. President Moon also appointed Yoon Seok-yeol as the new chief of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors' Office, which is the second most important position among prosecutors. Kim known for being the most progressive among eight justices in the Constitutional Court, and Yoon is famous for his disobedience to senior prosecutors during the probe into the scandal involving comments allegedly posted online by the National Intelligence Service during the 2012 presidential election campaign. President Moon named people who would curry favor with his administration. Again, it was a selection of people who could see eye-to-eye with him.
The Constitutional Court is the last bastion of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. It is an organization that protects the foundation of the country in that it decides whether laws legislated by the National Assembly are constitutional, makes judgement on the country’s major policies and even delivers a ruling on the impeachment of a president. In this regard, a neutral person with an open mind is more appropriate than a biased person to lead the court.
Kim was the only justice who had an opposing opinion in the Constitutional Court ruling that disbanded the ultra-left Unified Progressive Party in 2014. He said, “The doctrine of the Unified Progressive Party does not contravene the basic order of a free democracy and some members’ acts cannot be attributable to the responsibilities of the party.” However, it makes us doubt whether it was appropriate for a justice who is supposed to be the last bastion of the Constitution to see the insurrection conspiracy of the Rebellion Organization as Lee Seok-ki’s personal deviation. When the Constitutional Court ruled that a provision that illegalized the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union is constitutional, Kim was the only justice who saw it unconstitutional. He turned out to be the most progressive justice in the analysis of the 693 Constitutional Court rulings for 30 months from April 2014 conducted by Hahn Kyu-sup, a communications professor at Seoul National University.
While the chief justice of the Constitutional Court gives an opinion as an independent justice for a ruling, he might have an impact on the ruling in that he leads the operation of the Constitutional Court. Moreover, there are concerns about the prospects of the Constitutional Reform in that President Moon who declared the reform in June next year nominated the most leftist justice to lead the Constitutional Court.
Yoon’s appointment also sent shock waves to prosecutors. Some predict that a series of senior prosecutors will step down following the resignation of Lee Chang-jae, a vice justice minister, and Kim Joo-hyun, a deputy chief at the Supreme Prosecutors' Office. Though the appointment breaks the pecking order, it is acceptable in that a reshuffle in an organization can take place at the beginning of a new administration. However, President Moon said on the appointment, “We promoted and appointed the right person who will conduct an additional investigation into the Choi Soon-sil gate, the most important issue now at the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, and sustain the public prosecution of related cases.” It can be interpreted as a sort of an investigation guideline to the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, the largest prosecutors’ office in Korea. The announcement on the appointment itself was wrong in terms of the process. It is right for the president to appoint a prosecutor. However, the justice minister should propose it first to the president after listening to the Public Prosecutor General. The process was skipped this time. The announcement was also made by the presidential office, not the justice ministry.
Political neutrality and independence are crucial for the Constitutional Court and prosecutors. To protect the values, appointments should be neutral and a person who can be politically independent should be placed in key positions. It is worrisome in that it could be a warning, heralding a major reform in the organization. Hopefully, it is not the president’s intention to make the Constitutional Court liberal and turn Park Geun-hye’s prosecutors into Moon Jae-in’s.