Five of the nine justices, including President Lee Jin-sung, will step down on Wednesday as their terms expire.
The National Assembly is scheduled to vote Thursday afternoon on President Moon Jae-in’s pick of nominees for the Constitutional Court, including Yoo Nam-seok as the president and three other justices -- Kim Ki-young, Lee Young-jin and Lee Jong-seok.
As of Thursday, therefore, the Constitutional Court will have only four justices.
|Constitutional Court of Korea (Yonhap)|
If the vote at the National Assembly does not take place due to lack of attendance by the lawmakers, or if Yoo is voted down, the Constitutional Court will continue to operate short of justices.
As for the two nominees picked by the chief justice, who can be appointed without a vote by the National Assembly, chances are low that their appointments will be made on time as the ruling and opposition parties are at odds over the matter. By law, the president can immediately appoint the two without parliamentary approval, but that is unlikely given the political ramifications of doing so.
Political observers say Moon is more likely to wait a while and then resubmit his request for parliamentary confirmation of the appointees.
If that happens, the appointment of two other justice nominees, Lee Seok-tae and Lee Eun-ae, will take place after the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang and the Chuseok holidays, which end Sept. 26.
Under the Constitution of Korea, the Constitutional Court consists of nine justices -- three appointed by the president, three nominated by the chief justice, and three selected by the National Assembly.
Rival parties had dawdled in recommending new justice nominees amid a major conflict of interest.
The presidential office named Yoo on Aug. 29.
The Bareunmirae Party belatedly recommended Lee Young-jin on Sept. 3 while the main opposition Liberty Korea Party, due to internal disagreements, recommended Lee Jong-seok on Sept. 10.
The Constitutional Court had only seven justices after former president Park Han-cheol and Lee Jung-mi retired last year, but that was understandable due to the unusual circumstances following the impeachment of former President Park Geun-hye, an official at the Constitutional Court said.
“But the fact that we will have five justice seats empty due to delayed nominations by the government and the National Assembly is something many of us cannot understand,” he said.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org)