Location South Korea South Korea

South Korea: Constitutional Court receives baton on president’s impeachment

By Kim Bo-eun

The Constitutional Court received the baton on President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment from the National Assembly after the motion against her was passed, Friday.

Rep. Kweon Seong-dong of the Saenuri Party, the chief of the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee, who will defend the impeachment during the court hearings, submitted the resolution to the court.
The court then convened an emergency meeting of justices to discuss its hearing plan. It said the first may begin as early as the end of the month. The court named Judge Kang Il-won as the chief justice of the case. The court also requested the President to submit her written defense by Dec. 16, a preliminary step before hearings.
The court is required to make a ruling within six months.
But the decision may not come fast, because a number of factors could pose obstacles including an independent counsel investigation into the scandal surrounding her and her confidant Choi Soon-sil, which will be taking place at the same time.

Some observers say it may be difficult for the court to make a ruling before the investigation is concluded, as the allegations are yet to be confirmed as true. The court’s previous ruling on the impeachment of former President Roh Moo-hyun was different in that the facts had already been established when the ruling took place. It took only 63 days.
Others believe the special prosecutor’s probe into the scandal will not affect the court’s ruling because the justices will reach a conclusion independently.

The judges will examine whether the President violated the Constitution and laws by letting Choi, who does not hold a government post, meddle in state affairs, handing over classified state information to her, extorting money from conglomerates to benefit Choi, and not being on official duty on the day of the Sewol ferry disaster.
They will be able to examine related evidence. However, an obstacle in the process may be the law on the Constitutional Court which prevents it from requesting records of a case which is currently undergoing investigation or a trial.
This will make it difficult for the impeachment ruling to take place before the independent counsel’s 100-day investigation ends.
The court may summon Park for the hearings, which she can refuse to attend.
Another obstacle may be the retirement of judges.
At least seven justices of the nine-member panel are required to make a ruling, and at least six of them need to support the impeachment for it to be accepted.
However, two members’ terms will expire in January and March, respectively. The President holds the right to appoint the justices, but she has been suspended from duty.
But it is not clear whether the prime minister, who will be the acting president, will be able to appoint new judges.
The scope of the acting president’s authority is not clear. Among legal experts, there is a prevailing view that it is inappropriate for someone temporarily acting as the president to appoint justices who hold six-year terms.
If new members are not appointed soon enough, the ruling could be made with only seven members. Considering that the seven are mostly conservative, there is the possibility that more than one of them may oppose the impeachment and rule against it. Moreover, if one of the seven justices is unable to take part, the court’s ruling will be indefinitely suspended.


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