TAIPEI, Taiwan－The core duty of the grand justices, who comprise the nation’s constitutional court, is to “interpret the Constitution” when disputes arise around controversial issues.
If we use this as a yardstick to evaluate the grand justices’ job performance, an apt and fair word would be: inertia. Taiwan’s grand justices, led by Hsu Tzong-li (許宗力), who was appointed by President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文), have shocked many by repeatedly refusing to do their jobs as requested by government agencies and citizen groups.
For instance, they have given strange reasons to decline an opposition party request to interpret the legality of the government’s forward-looking infrastructure program. Even the Control Yuan’s request for them to rule upon whether the statute on handling political party assets is constitutional has been put on a back burner.
Six city and county governments have asked the grand justices to interpret the legality of the ruling party’s pension reform bills, which have cleared the legislative floor, after they had earlier decided not to respond to a similar request by 168 private citizens.
The justices turned down the local governments’ requests, on the grounds that they had not been forwarded by their superior government (that is, the central government or Cabinet) and they are not eligible to make such a request. What petty-minded logic! Or are they simply trying to push away a nuisance?
In spite of the grand justices’ inertia on a string of requests to do their job, lower-ranking judges at the Taipei High Administrative Court have taken the initiative to request that the constitutional court should interpret the legality of the the Act Governing the Settlement of Ill-gotten Properties by Political Parties and Their Affiliate Organizations, an indication that the administrative court is trying to guard the nation’s Constitution.
Hasn’t the Tsai administration vowed to push forward judicial reforms to make good on its campaign promise of “making the people masters of the country,” based on which it is actively promoting public participation in court trials?
So why are the grand justices in the Constitutional Court doing exactly the opposite by trampling on the people’s rights to request constitutional interpretations?
When Weng Yueh-sheng (翁岳生) stepped down as head of the constitutional court in 2007, he tearfully called on the nation’s justices not to become political tools, while also urging politicians not to trample on the judicial system. He was appealing to those with power to draw a line between politics and the judiciary.
Now one of his students, Hsu Tzong-li, has taken over the post as Taiwan’s top judge. Has Hsu also taken up Weng’s legacy as a man of professional integrity who takes national interest above partisan and personal interest? (Editorial abstract – Aug. 21, 2018)