Maikel Jose Moreno had been an obscure figure until the Trump administration froze his assets in the US. One of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s most notorious henchmen, Moreno is the President of the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which ruled “constitutional” the dissolution of the National Assembly controlled by the opposition parties, and approved the Executive Branch’s emergency decree, thereby tightening Maduro’s hold on power. The US government subjected Moreno and other seven judges of the Venezuelan Supreme Court to sanctions due to their undemocratic collaboration with the Venezuelan autocrat. Autocracy consists of three elements: propaganda machinery to rise, secret funds to rule, and the politically motivated judiciary to dominate. Chavista Venezuela is a perfect example of how the three work together.
The principle of separation of powers – legal, executive, and judicial – is as equivocal as sportsmanship in contact sports; a complete, thorough separation is unrealistic and the three powers somehow interact each other. If statecraft is boxing, however, Moreno is a master of rabbit punches – I hope this analogy helps you figure out what kind of man Moreno is. Moreno was an intelligence agent when he was convicted of murder in 1987 and served two years in jail. Then he went to law school when Hugo Chavez rose to national popularity, first as a leader of the failed coup and then as a populist politician. The former intelligence agent saw the opportunity of a lifetime in the rise of Chavez, and became one of the most loyal Chavista jurists. As a magistrate, Moreno earned his notoriety for purging Chavez’s opponents through politically motivated trials. For unknown reasons, however, Chavez decided to remove Moreno from the judiciary in 2007; Moreno had been away from the inner circle until Maduro brought him back to the judiciary in 2014, appointing him as the head of the Venezuelan Supreme Court. Ever since, Moreno remains the Venezuelan Roland Freisler.
The justice system under Chavez was already infamous for its corruption and lack of independence; but Maduro has brought the level of corruption to another level by kicking out Chavez’s judges and packing the Supreme Court with his handpicked, fervently pro-government judges in 2015. Needless to say, Moreno was the most subservient one among them. Maduro knows the judiciary was his last resort; the Chavista propaganda machine has lost its influence as Maduro’s United Socialist Party lost the 2015 National Assembly elections, and the Venezuelan economy is on the verge of collapse, or is already collapsing. Likewise, the Chavista judiciary has no other option than to follow Maduro to the end; it is the only way the Chavista collaborators can keep their privileges. Venezuela is one of the most corrupted nations in the world, not surprisingly.
South Korean rightists are wary of the leftist President Moon Jae-in, often dubbed as Korean Maduro, who has already exhibited various signs of nepotism since his inauguration in May, 2017. The rightists believe the Moon Jae-in administration is taking over the judicial branch, paving his path to autocracy.
Let me introduce you the new Chief Justice of the South Korean Supreme Court, Kim Myung-soo, approved by the National Assembly on Sep 21, 2017.
There are several controversies surrounding the new Chief Justice. The Korean rightists believe Kim is personally too close to President Moon: Kim was born and raised in Busan, Moon’s hometown, and they were both law students. The major factor that has contributed to his sudden rise in the judiciary branch is, the critics say, the close relationship with the head of the executive branch. Born in 1959, he is deemed too young to be the head of the judiciary branch, and furthermore, he has not served as a Supreme Court justice before. He is known as an avid LGBT rights advocate who agitated for the repeal of the provisions relating to punishing homosexual intercourse in military camps in a pro-LGBT seminar he hosted in 2012 – another reason the Korean Evangelist Christians are upset with Kim’s nomination as the Chief Justice. On Sep 20, however, Kim announced an official statement denying his sympathy for LGBT. Also, his critics see him too media-friendly and too sensitive to the public opinion. Apparently, some reporters appreciate his attitude and see him quite favorably; in an article by Yang Sung-hee, she introduced Kim as a caring person “who cooked ramen for junior judges and personally handed them chopsticks.” Later, in other article, Yang expressed her high expectation by comparing Kim to the US Chief Justice Earl Warren. Wow, it is a huge compliment.
The biggest controversy is, however, Kim’s participation in the radical left-wing activism. There are two notable organizations for left-wing jurists: Uri Law Society and Lawyers for a Democratic Society, both organized in 1988. The former is a group of leftist magistrates and the latter consists of leftist lawyers. Moon Jae-in himself was a member of the Lawyers for a Democratic Society as he officially withdrew his membership on May 11 2017. The LDS is known as one of the most powerful organization dominated by the National Liberation faction, a group of North Korea-sympathizing nationalists. One of the LDS ‘ goals is to repeal, or cripple at least, the National Security Law, enacted in 1948 to criminalize any pro-North Korean activities. The LDS has also defended a number of left-wing politicians from controversies and lawsuits, most notably its founding member Park Won-soon, the controversy-frequent mayor of Seoul.
Kim was a member of the Uri Law Society, known as the incubator for left-wing theorists. It is safe to assume the ULS focuses on the theoretical foundation while the LDS leads the activism. The Uri Law Society emerged as a part of the inner circle of the Roh Moo-hyun administration as its key members were appointed to high posts in the judiciary. While Moon Jae-in was Roh’s right hand man, as senior presidential secretary for civil affairs and chief secretary in charge of the executive branch from 2003 to 2008, Kim Myung-soo was the president of the Uri Law Society from 2004 to 2010. Also notably, the Uri jurists played a crucial role in defending the demagogues who instigated the 2008 US Beef Protest.
Although he officially left the ULS in 2010, given his controversial past of far-left activism, the concern that Kim can be South Korea’s equivalent to Maikel Moreno sounds reasonable. The nomination of Kim Myung-soo was soon followed by another controversy: President Moon and the Democratic Party of Korea directly appealed to their supporters, through social media, for the “action for Candidate Kim.” This action includes the direct blackmail and defamation of opposing lawmakers and right-wing activists; originally initiated by lawmaker Pyo Chang-won of the Democratic Party in Dec, 2016, it was a crucial tactic to pressure the National Assembly to impeach President Park the following year. Now, thanks to the same tactic, the National Assembly has confirmed the nomination of Kim Myung-soo. It seems the tactic has become Moon’s favorite to control the National Assembly in the name of “direct democracy.”
Kim has more than one reason to smile. But it is unclear which path he will follow: Maikel Moreno’s or Earl Warren’s. As much as I pay little attention to his caring personality, I am more apprehensive about his history. I wish, from the bottom of my heart, my foreboding turns out wrong and Kim will be remembered as one of the greatest Chief Justice in the Korean history. However, as of now, his friendly grin does not comfort me.