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Ruling party makes last-minute pitch for Supreme Court nominee on eve of showdown vote

The ruling Democratic Party made a last-minute pitch for opposition support for President Moon Jae-in‘s pick for Supreme Court chief justice Wednesday on the eve of a crucial showdown vote on the nominee.

The National Assembly will hold a vote Thursday on whether to approve or reject the nominee, Kim Meong-su, more than a month after he was named to lead the highest court. A rejection would deal a major blow to Moon, just a couple of weeks after his pick for Constitutional Court chief was voted down.

Conservative parties have opposed Kim, taking issue with his previous role in leading a group of liberal judges, his 2015 ruling in favor of a progressive teachers’ union and his perceived advocacy for homosexuals‘ rights. They claim his appointment could fuel the judiciary’s swing to the left.

On Wednesday, the ruling party chief pleaded for support for Kim.
Rep. Choo Mi-ae speaks during a party meeting on Sept. 20, 2017. (Yonhap)
Rep. Choo Mi-ae speaks during a party meeting on Sept. 20, 2017. (Yonhap)

“I welcome the agreement to open a plenary session to handle the motion for nominee Kim‘s appointment. It’s fortunate that a vote will take place albeit belatedly,” DP leader Choo Mi-ae said during a daily party meeting.

“It‘s been confirmed through the confirmation hearing that nominee Kim is the right person for judicial reform and he is a judge of high morality and integrity,” she said. “The point should be on whether he’s the right person for judicial independence. I wholeheartedly plead for opposition support and cooperation.”

But the main opposition Liberty Korea Party showed no signs of backing down from its opposition to Kim. It adopted disapproval as a party line.

Rep. Chung Woo-taik, the party‘s floor leader, highlighted Kim’s alleged advocacy for homosexuality, saying his appointment is feared to “rock the legal, religious values about same-sex marriage and homosexuality in our society.”

“There is no change in our position that nominee Kim is unfit for head of the judiciary,” he said.

Chung also emphasized that Kim hosted an academic seminar on homosexuality. Kim, if approved, could designate judges supportive of homosexuality to be Constitutional Court justices. Under law, the Supreme Court‘s chief is supposed to name three of the Constitutional Court’s nine justices.

That could lead to the Constitutional Court finding the military law banning homosexuality unconstitutional, he said.

The minor opposition People‘s Party is considered holding a casting vote in the showdown, just as it did in the parliamentary rejection of the Constitutional Court’s chief last week. The party has 40 seats in the 299-member parliament while the ruling party has 121 seats and the main opposition party has 107 seats.

Hours before the vote on Kim Thursday, the ruling party leader will meet with Ahn Cheol-soo, the chief of the People‘s Party, in a last-ditch effort to secure his backing, multiple sources said.

President Moon already called Kim Dong-cheol, the minor party’s floor leader, to ask for cooperation, before departing for New York on Monday to attend the UN General Assembly, sources said.

The minor party had threatened to reject the nominee after Choo slammed the party for joining the main opposition party in rejecting the Constitutional Court nominee. Earlier this week, Choo apologized for the criticism in an effort to win the party‘s backing for the Supreme Court nominee.

Leaders of the People’s Party now say they would let members vote according to their own views.

Earlier in the day, Yonhap News Agency surveyed the People‘s Party lawmakers, in which 32 responded. Of them, 11 approved of the court nominee and one disapproved. Twenty others refused to clarify their positions. (Yonhap)