Sat, Jan 20, 2001 - Page 8 News List

What does Ruling 520 actually mean?

By Wang Yeh-li 王業立

After the Council of Grand Justices's interpretation of the Constitution (Ruling 520) was released on Jan. 15, the ruling has become the subject of various interpretations. One controversy is this: does the ruling sufficiently explain the constitutionality of the Executive Yuan's decision to halt construction of the Fourth Nuclear Power Plant (核四)? Within academic circles, some very polarized views have emerged. Some believe that the decision was unconstitutional, while others believe that a procedural flaw is not the equivalent of unconstitutionality. The latter group further believe that the Executive Yuan acted unconstitutionally only if the ruling explicitly says so.

While the ruling does not explicitly state that the Executive Yuan's act was unconstitutional, it clearly states that "as ceasing the implementation of a legally-mandated budget has the function of changing the direction of the administration or important policies, [taking such an action] without the participation of the Legislative Yuan is inconsistent with the constitutional mandate to have the legislative branch participate in policymaking."

The question then becomes: is inconsistency with the constitutional mandate a violation of the Constitution?

Looking back at the rulings of the Council of Grand Justices over the years, we discover that "inconsistency with the constitutional mandate" is not an innovative, ambiguous term. Rather, it appears frequently in various rulings. Ruling 384, for example, states that certain articles of the regulations on the prosecution and eradication of "black gold" are "inconsistent with the mandate" of Article 8 of the Constitution. In Ruling 392, certain articles in the criminal prosecution law are also deemed "inconsistent with the mandate" of Item 2, Article 8 of the Constitution. Ruling 443 also finds regulations on circumstances in which males eligible for military service may leave the country to be "inconsistent with the mandate" of Article 10 of the Constitution. Do those who hold that the Executive Yuan's decision was not "unconstitutional" because the ruling does not explicitly state it to have been so, also think that the above-described rulings did not find the relevant regulations or laws unconstitutional for the same reason?

The biggest difference between Ruling 520 and most of the previous rulings is that the past rulings typically state when the relevant regulations or laws lost their legal force. In Ruling 520, although the justices also state that the decision to halt construction was inconsistent with the constitutional mandate, it does not clearly state whether the decision thereby loses its legal force. The ruling simply goes on to state that the decision was procedurally flawed and the Executive Yuan must make up for the skipped procedural step immediately. As a result, the ruling has led to another controversy over whether construction of the plant should be resumed first.

It is by now meaningless to continue debate over whether the language of the ruling indicates "unconstitutionality." As the Council of Grand Justices has made its interpretation, the remaining issues must be dealt with through political means. We can only hope that both the opposition and ruling parties will be able to demonstrate the magnanimity of political statesmen, and leave behind the baggage of political hatred and ideology. Attach top priority to the welfare of the people, and the protection of the constitutional order. Begin inter-party negotiations as soon as possible and exercise collective wisdom in the resolution of political standoffs. This would be a result that most Taiwanese would be happy to see.

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