111 Lawmakers Promote the Impeachment of a Judge: Democratic Party Draws the Line Saying "It's Not the Party's Position"

Park Kwang-yeon 2021. 1. 29. 18:49
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On January 28, the leaders of the Democratic Party of Korea approved a proposal for an impeachment of a judge connected to the “abuse of court authority.” A hundred and eleven lawmakers, mostly from the ruling party, are calling for an impeachment, so if some forty more lawmakers join them, this could lead to the first ever impeachment of a judge in the history of our Constitution. However, the Democratic Party drew the line claiming that the impeachment was not the official position of the party, perhaps to avoid the burden in promoting future legislation concerning the people’ livelihoods and any political backlash.

The impeachment of judges is an old issue, first raised in 2018, when the abuse of court authority was first disclosed. The issue resurfaced after news got out that judges Im Seong-geun from the Busan High Court and Lee Dong-geun from the Seoul High Court, who allegedly intervened in the trial on the “seven hours following the Sewol accident” were to retire this coming February.

The leaders of the Democratic Party, who had displayed a passive attitude on the impeachment of the judges, approved the lawmakers’ efforts to seek impeachment this day because they had no choice but to accept the fierce demand from inside and outside the party. The party needs to gather its supporters ahead of the by-elections for the mayors of Seoul and Busan this coming April and the presidential election next year, so it could not ignore its supporters, who have been calling for the impeachment of the judges, sending massive numbers of text messages. After a meeting of the party’s lawmakers this day, leader Lee Nak-yeon explained, “We made the decision after a comprehensive review of the opinions of many lawmakers and of the legal and political considerations.”

However, Judge Lee, who was mentioned as a subject for the impeachment along with Chief Justice Im, was excluded, because the allegations against him were light compared with those of Im and there were different opinions on the need to impeach Lee based on the interpretation of the decision from the National Council of Representative Judges, which had called for the impeachment. This day, the party’s leaders held a private meeting of its Supreme Council and received a report including these details from the party’s legal committee. Lawmaker Lee Tahney, who initiated the impeachment of judges, received news of this and revised the previous plan.

Now that the party’s leaders have approved the proposal, the National Assembly may vote for the first ever impeachment of a judge in the history of our nation. The impeachment of a judge is possible when it is proposed by more than a third of the registered lawmakers and supported by the majority of the registered lawmakers. Since 111 lawmakers have already expressed their plans to support the impeachment, the National Assembly can pass the impeachment with the support of some forty more lawmakers. Currently, the Democratic Party holds 174 seats, more than half of all seats in the National Assembly. An official from lawmaker Lee Tahney’s office said, “We will seek additional support from lawmakers and propose the impeachment as early as tomorrow (Jan. 29),” and added, “Since there are many lawmakers who agree with the proposal, we expect it to pass easily in the parliamentary session.”

However, the ruling party leaders drew the line claiming that the party was not officially promoting the impeachment. When asked if the impeachment would be promoted as an official party initiative, Lee Nak-yeon answered, “No,” and added, “We will respect the decision by the lawmakers.”

Such a stance seems to be due to the political burden that the impeachment of a judge can bring. If another judicial issue emerges, after the fatigue caused by the conflict between former Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae and Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-youl, it could weaken the drive for legislation concerning disease control, people’s livelihoods, and the economy, which are the main concerns of the special parliamentary session in February. Recently, the court announced decisions against the ruling party, so the move to impeach a judge could also seem like the ruling party is lashing out on the judiciary.

This is the third attempt to impeach a judge. In 1985, the National Assembly failed to pass a proposal for the impeachment of Yoo Tai-heung, chief justice of the Supreme Court. Also in 2009, lawmakers failed to take a vote on the impeachment of Supreme Court Justice Shin Young-chul within 72 hours, the deadline stipulated in the National Assembly Act, and the proposal was automatically disposed.

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