By Kim Bo-eun
Outgoing Constitutional Court Justice Lee Jung-mi, who led the landmark ruling upholding President Park Geun-hye’s impeachment, called for the nation to unite and overcome divisions over the ousting of the head of state.
Lee, 55, served as the acting president of the court after former President Park Han-chul retired at the end of January. Her six-year term ended Monday.
Calling the impeachment ruling “a really painful and difficult decision,” she said, “I believe the leadership crisis and social conflict facing us is a process we should go through to solidify Constitutional values, democracy and human rights.”
In her retirement speech at the court in central Seoul, Lee stressed the need for the people to unite, despite differing stances on Park’s removal from office.
The former President’s supporters are refusing to accept the ruling, and even Park virtually ignored it when she moved into her private residence in Samseong-dong, southern Seoul, Sunday. In protests by pro-Park activists following the court ruling, Friday, three people died.
“The key to democracy is respecting others’ opinions even if they differ from one’s own,” Lee said.
“It is my sincere hope for the country to shake off division and animosity and unite by embracing each other with love and tolerance.”
Lee served as a professor at the Judicial Research and Training Institute, and a senior judge at the Seoul Central District Court, Seoul High Court and Busan High Court. She was appointed as the Constitutional Court’s second female justice in March 2011, while serving as a senior judge at Daejeon High Court. At age 49, she was also the youngest justice appointed.
Lee was part of the majority vote in rulings which disbanded the far-left United Progressive Party in 2014 and upheld the constitutionality of the anti-corruption law last year.
However, in the court’s ruling on the anti-adultery law, Lee provided a minor opinion countering its abolishment, stating that adultery damaged the social institution of marriage based on monogamy.
Lee has now ended her 30-year career in government service since she became a judge in 1987. She is expected to rest for the time being after shouldering immense pressure over the impeachment ruling.
Ahead of the ruling, Lee faced threats from pro-Park activists, who posted her home address online. She will continue to be protected by police after retirement.
Justice Kim Yi-su is expected to assume the role of acting president of the court, which now has seven members on its panel. Attorney Lee Seon-ae, who was nominated as a Constitutional Court justice, will be appointed if she passes a National Assembly confirmation hearing to be held next week.