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[Editorial] Too biased

Justice appointment raises concerns court may rule to liking of administration

President Moon Jae-in has pressed ahead with the controversial appointments of Lee Mi-sun and Moon Hyung-bae as Constitutional Court justices.

During confirmation hearings, lawmakers raised issues with Lee’s ethics and qualifications. She was discredited for her and her husband’s 3.5 billion won ($3.07 million) stock investment in firms involving cases she ruled on. She did not clarify her positions on touchy issues such as abortion, refugees and alternative military service.

Moon Hyung-bae headed a progressive research society of judges that is on the same wavelength as the current administration.

Since he took office, President Moon has appointed eight of the nine Constitutional Court justices, including Lee and Moon. No other president has appointed as many justices of the court. That is because former President Park Geun-hye was impeached. Four of the eight were appointed despite opposition parties’ refusal to issue confirmation reports due to controversies on the nominees.

Cheong Wa Dae said President Moon appointed the two justices through an electronic signature system even on his overseas trip to prevent vacancies in the Constitutional Court. But it is questionable whether it was so urgent to appoint them in such a manner, particularly considering suspicions concerning Lee. Lee’s stock trading flew in the face of common sense and fell short of popular expectations about Constitutional Court justices.

Yet the presidential office turned a deaf ear to suspicions and concerns. Noting that nothing was illegal in her stock trade, it made the same old excuse, “to prevent vacancies.” In doing so it disregarded the people and the National Assembly, their representative body. And what is the point of hearings, if the president appoints nominees regardless?

Among others, Lee has been accused by an opposition party over a possible conflict of interest. She ruled on a case involving a company whose stocks she and her husband traded. She should have shunned the case.

Even if she is cleared in an investigation, few would regard her stock trading as appropriate ethical behavior for a justice. The public expects even greater integrity from a Constitutional Court justice than an ordinary judges.

Moon pressed ahead with the appointment apparently because the nominees agree with his ideological leanings. Now, the Constitutional Court has six progressive justices nominated by the president, the Supreme Court chief justice whom Moon appointed and the ruling party. The ruling camp has effectively secured the two-thirds majority needed to label laws unconstitutional. If the six justices have the same opinion, laws can be repealed.

The main opposition Liberal Korea Party protested the appointment strongly. The party condemned it as a move to abrogate laws disagreeable to the Moon administration.

The party said that the administration will no longer have any reason to struggle in the legislature to revise laws and that it will file constitutional petitions against laws it does not like, expecting the court to rule them unconstitutional. It called the appointment as the final piece to complete Moon’s puzzle to create a leftist dictatorship.

Legal circles are also concerned about the court’s ideological bias. The court will likely make left-leaning decisions to the liking of the Moon government. Particularly worrying is the possibility that it may rule laws related to national security unconstitutional.

Overall, the judicial playing field has become too lopsided.

The same is true of the Supreme Court, one of the two pillars of the Korean court systems along with the Constitutional Court.

Moon has replaced nine of 14 Supreme Court justices, including the chief justice. Five of the nine were members of progressive organizations of judges or lawyers. He can replace four more Supreme Court justices during the three-year remainder of his presidency. Progressive liberalism in the Supreme Court will thicken further.

The Constitutional Court interprets the constitution and decides on the constitutionality of laws. It has the final say on issues with far-reaching impact, such as human rights, the impeachment of the president and the disbandment of a political party.

In this context, a balanced view is required. Above all, the court must be independent from government power. This is why the constitution requires the president, the National Assembly and the Supreme Court chief justice to nominate three Constitutional Court justices apiece, while giving the power to appoint them to the president.

Balance is the spirit of the Constitution.

The president and Supreme Court chief justice ignored that spirit. They have filled most of the justice posts with pro-Moon figures.

This amounts to taking over the judiciary. The judicial branch has become too biased.