Photo: Lee Gyun-yong at his confirmation hearing before the legislature. Credit: News1.
For the first time in 35 years, the National Assembly 국회 rejected President Yoon Suk-yeol 윤석열 대통령’s nomination of Lee Gyun-yong 이균용 as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 대법원장. The president’s Chief Justice appointment must be approved by a majority vote in the legislature.
On October 6, Lee was rejected by a vote of 118 in favor to 175 against, led by the Democratic Party 민주당 with its 168 seats. Lee is the first nominee for Chief Justice to be rejected since Jeong Gi-seung 정기승, whose nomination in 1988 - one year after South Korea’s democratization - foundered on charges that Jeong had been too closely aligned with the Chun Doo-hwan 전두환 dictatorship.
Lee’s nomination was controversial from the outset, with opponents noting Lee’s transparently conservative partisanship during his tenure as High Court judge and his attacks on outgoing Chief Justice Kim Myeong-su 김명수’s rulings, particularly Kim’s rulings regarding reparations for World War II-era slave laborers. Lee also drew fire for his incomplete disclosure of his assets and his penchant for reducing the sentences of convicted sex offenders.
It will take at least another two months for a new nomination to be submitted to the National Assembly. The Office of the President 대통령실 decried the vote as “holding the people hostage for a political fight.” The Democratic Party said in a statement: “President Yoon should take seriously the assessment of the legislature that he must nominate someone befitting the dignity of the office as the head of the judiciary.