Among 293 lawmakers present, 145 voted for Kim Yi-su, with another 145 against him. One abstained and two votes were listed as invalid. Kim's approval required the backing of a majority of lawmakers participating in the vote.
It is the first time a court chief designate has failed to be approved by the legislature, observers said.
The parliamentary vote on Kim had already been put off for three months, due largely to controversies over his 1980 ruling against a pro-democracy activist and his views on the 2014 disbandment of a far-left party with members accused of pro-North Korean activities.
|Lawmakers attend a parliamentary plenary session at the National Assembly in Seoul on Sept. 11, 2017. (Yonhap)|
Kim is the latest in a series of Moon's top nominees who have failed to be appointed amid disputes over their qualifications.
The president's previous picks for the justice and labor ministers, and a court justice designate, renounced their nominations. Two top security and science officials also resigned amid public disapproval.
Moon's disputed personnel choices have raised questions over the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae's personnel vetting process.
Cheong Wa Dae vented anger and frustration, saying the parliament's disapproval was "the ultimate in irresponsibility."
"What happened today at the parliament will be recorded as the ultimate in irresponsibility and an objection for the sake of objection," Yoon Young-chan, the chief presidential press secretary, told reporters. "We have never imagined this."
The Assembly's disapproval of Kim is expected to take a toll on the operation of the court's nine-member bench that has remained rudderless since former chief Park Han-chul retired in January.
It is also bound to dampen the morale of the ruling Democratic Party, as it seeks to build cooperative ties with the opposition bloc to pass a series of bills key to the Moon government's reform agenda, including retooling the tax code.
"In light of the future of our country, it is very regrettable that the Assembly has made such a decision based on partisan politics," Choo Mi-ae, the ruling party chief, told reporters after the vote.
The main opposition Liberty Korea Party called the legislature's disapproval "only a natural thing," highlighting what it calls Kim's ideological bias.
"The ruling party pushed for the vote based on political calculations," Khang Hyo-shang, the party spokesman, told reporters. "All responsibility for the disapproval should lie on the ruling party."
The minor opposition Justice Party also shifted the blame to the ruling party.
"The government and ruling party failed to actively persuade the opposition bloc," Choo Hye-seon, the party spokeswoman, said in her commentary. "This case basically laid bare its lack of strategy in the modus operandi of the parliamentary vote." (Yonhap)