Photo: The Constitutional Court hearing for the impeachment trial of Lee Sang-min. Credit: Legal Times.
The Constitutional Court 헌법재판소 rejected the impeachment of Interior Minister Lee Sang-min 이상민 행정안전부 장관 over the Itaewon Disaster. The Democratic Party 민주당 impeached Lee for his failure to act in the crowd-crushing disaster from October 2022, when 159 people were killed in a small alleyway that had been closed to foot traffic during the popular Halloween street festival in previous years. No official from the Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 administration resigned or apologized for the disaster. (See previous coverage, “Failures at the Itaewon Disaster.”)
On July 25, the Constitutional Court unanimously dismissed the impeachment of Lee. This had been the expected decision, as the court previously held on several occasions that an official cannot be removed by impeachment for mere incompetence, as removal requires serious infringement of the constitution or the law. Four justices, Kim Gi-yeong 김기영, Mun Hyeong-bae 문형배, Lee Mi-seon 이미선, and Jeong Jeong-mi 정정미 wrote concurring opinions noting Lee’s failures, including his failure to report to the scene of the disaster for two hours despite living a 15-minute drive away. In his defense, Lee explained that he was waiting for his driver to arrive at his residence.
At a press conference outside the court, Lee Jeong-min 이정민, a spokesperson for the Itaewon victims’ families after he lost his son in the disaster, said: “No head of any government organ was held responsible, and now they never will be. Only the low-level, frontline officials will be blamed, and the people who were in charge will never be held responsible.” Conservative activists harassed the victims’ families during the press conference, repeating claims that North Korea caused the Itaewon Disaster and singing “This is a good day” at the families who lost their children.