Wed, Oct 06, 2010 - Page 8 News List

Approval of new justices must not be done hastily

By Huang Kuo-chang Liu Ching-yi 黃國昌,劉靜怡

On May 10, US President Barack Obama nominated former dean of Harvard Law School Elena Kagan to be an associate justice on the US Supreme Court. The US Senate Judiciary Committee later held a four-day review hearing, had Kagan complete a comprehensive and detailed survey, including an eight-page financial disclosure, received objections from about 70 groups and individuals and listened to the testimony of 26 witnesses.

In comparison, on Aug. 24, President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) nominated Central Election Commission chairman Rai Hau-min (賴浩敏) and former National Communications Commission chairman Su Yeong-chin (蘇永欽) as president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan. The Presidential Office sent the request for approval to the Legislative Yuan a few days ago, although the public has yet to see the legislature’s actual review or preparation work. The ruling party and opposition discussed the nominations late last month, at which point they decided to have a debate on Monday, setting aside only one morning session. The vote is provisionally earmarked for Friday.

The comparison clearly finds the legislature wanting. The rashness in approving nominations for the nation’s most important judicial posts is a result of lawmakers’ indifference and lack of a sense of responsibility. Some argue that any “substantive review” should be judged on its content and intensity, not the length of time allotted.

How can they have the audacity to claim they can make a comprehensive assessment of the two men’s ideas and commitment to judicial reform, while also reviewing their Constitutional knowledge, democratic credentials, policy stances, approaches to human rights and integrity as new grand justices?

For example, how informed is the legislature on cases in which the two served as arbitrators or witnesses in the past? How much were these men paid for the services? Did they behave ethically in these cases? If the answer is “no,” how can the legislature possibly carry out a substantive review?

Remember that as the president and vice president of the Judicial Yuan, they will have massive resources at their disposal. The decisions and actions they take will have a significant influence on the nation’s judicial policies, future direction and pace of reform. They will make a substantive difference.

That is not to say that the review process for grand justice nominees should be anything but comprehensive and rigorous, it’s merely to emphasize the added urgency when it comes to nominations for the Judicial Yuan president and vice president, people who are to be responsible for the judicial reform that the public craves.

The judiciary is currently facing an unprecedented level of scrutiny and challenges from society and it is high time for lawmakers to put their money where their mouths are. Lawmakers have been entrusted to carry out an important task and they are constitutionally bound to do so. They must not let us down. They can start with a substantive review of the Judicial Yuan presidential and vice presidential nominees.

The ruling and opposition camps should extend the length of the hearing and review through negotiations. Perhaps they should learn from the US Senate Judiciary Committee by requesting that the nominees answer questions in a survey and expand the width and depth, as well as the intensity, of the public hearing, to open it to a wider debate.

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