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[Editorial] Nat’l Assembly Abusing Legislative Power

Posted November. 18, 2008 03:10,   


Article 40 of the Constitution says legislative power belongs to the National Assembly. Legislation is parliament’s right as well as its obligation. The National Assembly is also responsible for setting the foundation for rule of law through legislation. The public, however, has long been disappointed by inadequate legislation produced by the National Assembly. Worse, lawmakers push for laws serving the interests of their parties instead of the nation even if the laws are likely to be ruled unconstitutional. Statistics on legislation found unconstitutional by the Constitutional Court make many question if the National Assembly deserves to be the legislative branch of the government.

Between 1988, the year of its establishment, and the end of last month, the Constitutional Court received 15,937 applications to rule on a law’s constitutionality. Among them, 291 were found in violation of the Constitution (unconstitutional or inconsistent with the Constitution). Producing legislation that violates the highest law of the land is one thing, but 44 statutes (23 unconstitutional and 21 inconsistent with the Constitution) have yet to be corrected even after the court’s rulings. The National Assembly has simply neglected its duty.

A parliamentary official said, “Unconstitutional statues immediately become invalid after a court ruling so there’s nothing for us to do. For those inconsistent with the Constitution, all we need to do is to make alterations or abolish those before the court’s deadline.” This is simply an act of holding the Constitution in contempt. With the exception of few politicians like main opposition Democratic Party lawmaker Kim Min-suk, who violently resisted a lower court’s arrest warrant, no Korean has dared to ignore a court ruling.

When a statute is ruled inconsistent with the Constitution, the Constitutional Court allows time for revision to prevent confusion that could rise from sudden invalidation. The longer the delay, the greater the damage to the nation. One example is a medical law requiring doctors with licenses to practice both Western and Oriental medicine to build only one type of hospital. Though ruled inconsistent with the Constitution on the grounds that it violated the right of equality almost a year ago, no revisions have been made.

Another law ruled unconstitutional obliged apartment residents to pay for school sites in their vicinity. As a result, 250,000 people paid a combined 450 billion won (450 million U.S. dollars), though they had no obligation to do so. Unfortunately, the National Assembly apparently has not learned its lessons from the past. The ruling party is at a loss over the revision of the comprehensive real estate tax law, parts of which were ruled either unconstitutional or inconsistent with the Constitution Thursday. Opposition parties are doing no better. They have rejected the Constitutional Court’s decision itself, indicating a rough road ahead in revising the law. It seems like the National Assembly is doing anything but helping the people, let alone establish rule of law.