I am pleased to meet you all. I wholeheartedly congratulate you on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Constitutional Court of Korea.
It is very meaningful for me to join you who are assuming important responsibilities at the legislative, judicial and executive branches as well as constitutional organizations to commemorate the Constitutional Court’s 30th anniversary and reflect on the spirit of democracy and the Constitution.
The driving force behind the birth of the Constitutional Court was the June Struggle in 1987. In that year, the people came together in one mind crying out for democracy in defiance of dictatorship. They, on their own initiative, brought the Constitution’s ideology and spirit out into everyday life, waking it from where it had slumbered for four decades in law books since the Constitution was first promulgated in 1948.
The victory of the June Struggle helped shape the current Constitution. The Constitutional Court is the culmination of the democratic Constitution of 1987. It is the constitutional apparatus devised by the people in defense of the democratic constitution.
Back in 1988 when it was first founded, the Constitutional Court did not even have its own building. Nonetheless, it could take root in collective consciousness thanks to the people’s aspirations and expectations for freedom, equality and democracy.
The Constitutional Court has made unceasing efforts to protect the rights of the people drawing on its authority from them when construing the Constitution. Every single ruling handed down by the Constitutional Court has become part of the cornerstone for the people’s fundamental rights and the growth of democracy.
Those hurt by unreasonable practices and the unwarranted exercise of state power as well as the socially vulnerable and minorities have knocked on the door of the Constitutional Court. It has put an end to longstanding anachronisms and evils through fierce debates and bold decisions. Every time it struck down harsh laws from the period of dictatorship and authoritarianism as unconstitutional, the quality of life improved.
It has also made significant contributions to helping democracy take hold and develop in our society. The institution has improved some elements of the political system that run counter to the Constitution and has made up for shortcomings in the election system, which keep it from properly reflecting public opinion.
The Constitutional Court has always stood by the people, and its history is imbued with the dedication and hard work of the first President of the Constitutional Court Cho Kyu-kwang, who has been awarded the Order of Civil Merit today, and many other Justices of the Court. I express my profound respect to them once again.
I also extend my appreciation to President of the Constitutional Court Lee Jin-sung, the other eight Justices and the Court staff, who are writing proud chapters in the Court's history today.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Constitution is the last bastion to safeguard the people. The Constitutional Court has so far made its best efforts to respond to the people's order to safeguard the Constitution, to their expectation that the Court will protect those who suffer through no fault of their own and to their conviction that it will serve as the foundation for the progress of democracy.
The Constitution is mighty because of the people’s desire to protect it and because it contains their will and the values that they strive to uphold.
The people are transitioning from political democracy to everyday democracy following the candlelight revolution. It is the people that are changing the world. We must not lose hold of the people. When the Constitutional Court moves forward hand in hand with the people, the powers of the Constitution can be exercised.
Strengthening fundamental rights and popular sovereignty is the call of the times, entrusted to the Government and constitutional institutions by the people. The Government and constitutional institutions must continually ask ourselves whether we have successfully carried out the missions entrusted to us by the people or whether there have been moments when we have forgotten or turned away from the spirit of the Constitution.
The Court is one of the state institutions most trusted by the people. There is a strong belief that it will remain politically neutral, have an independent standard of judgment and uphold the value of the Constitution all for the sake of the people.
The expression “state authority” is mentioned only once in the Constitution. “All state authority shall emanate from the people”—this is the Korean people’s favorite article in the Constitution. All the powers held by public servants, including myself, are ones entrusted to us by the people.
The Court should more thoroughly protect the fundamental rights of the people and be more resolute in dealing with illegal practices committed by state institutions.
The Constitution is neither perfect nor eternal. The interpretation of the Constitution also can neither be immutable nor infallible. I believe that its interpretation endlessly evolves in line with the spirit of the times and the people’s understanding and awareness of the Constitution.
Still, there are unalterable principles. The completion of democracy and the determination and aspiration of the people for human dignity are principles that can never be changed. The more firmly the Court rests on these principles, the stronger the people’s trust in the law, including the Constitution, will become. The people can further devote themselves to their lives, and the foundation of the country will become even stronger.
Next year marks the 100th anniversary of the Provisional Government of the Republic of Korea declaring a democratic republic based on popular sovereignty.
The people hold the sovereign power; each and every Justice on the Court works on their behalf and integrates their minds which may possess considerably varying opinions.
I believe that the Court will be the most reliable companion of the people on the path to strengthening popular sovereignty to achieve a more mature democratic republic. I wish the Constitutional Court continued success.
Thank you very much.