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[Newsmaker] Moon’s choice of Supreme Court chief nominee rekindles ideological bickering

The Moon Jae-in government is embroiled in yet another ideological war of words, this time revolving around Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee Kim Meong-su.

Kim, who was nominated to the position Monday, is currently the head of the Chuncheon District Court in Gangwon Province. His nomination was immediately attacked by conservative opposition parties, which accuse the new administration of attempting to exert leftist views on the judiciary.

Citing Kim’s involvement in an association of judges with progressive political views, the main opposition Liberty Korea Party claimed that Kim’s nomination signaled the judiciary losing political and ideological neutrality.

“I strongly condemn President Moon Jae-in’s self-righteousness and anti-constitutional thinking. (The party) will vet (Kim and constitutional justice nominees) and ensure that the judiciary does not become a puppet of the regime,” said Liberty Korea Party Floor Leader Rep. Chung Woo-taik. 

Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee Kim Meong-su. Yonhap
Supreme Court Chief Justice nominee Kim Meong-su. Yonhap


Kim was part of a now-defunct association formed in 1988 by progressive judges when high-ranking judges of the Chun Doo-hwan administration retained their posts even after former President Roh Tae-woo agreed to constitutional revision to enable fully democratic elections.

The association became a target of criticism when a number of members, including former Minister of Justice Kang Kum-sil, rose to high-level government posts in the Roh Moo-hyun administration.

The question of seniority has also raised eyebrows within the judiciary.

Of the 13 incumbent Supreme Court justices, nine passed the National Judicial Examination before Kim, who made it through the final round of the examination in 1985. In addition, if appointed, Kim will be the first Supreme Court chief justice to hold the post without having served as a justice of the top court.

However, the ruling Democratic Party of Korea supported Kim’s nomination.

Referring to Kim’s nomination as “the flare of Supreme Court’s reform,” Democratic Party Floor Leader Rep. Woo Won-shik hit back, accusing the conservatives of attempting to taint the nominee.

For the main opposition, the high-profile activities of Kim in recent years are also likely to be a thorn in its side.

In 2015, Kim ruled in favor of the Korean Teachers and Educational Workers’ Union, in its suit against the government to retain its status as a legally recognized labor union. The teachers’ union lost its legally recognized labor union status during the Park Geun-hye administration.

While the new government has yet to take sides in the matter, conservatives have branded the teachers’ union as a pro-communist group and accused its members of teaching biased historical views.

The Supreme Court chief justice nominee was also instrumental in Liberty Korea Party Reps. Kim Jin-tae and Yeom Dong-yeol being put on trial over alleged violations of the Public Official Election Act during last year’s general election.

At the time, the two Liberty Korea Party lawmakers were accused of violating election laws, but the prosecution dropped the case. However, Gangwon Province’s election commission, headed by Kim at the time, filed a request to the Seoul High Court to revoke the decision, leading to the two being put on trial.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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