Qualification for Cabinet nominees
By Jay Kim
The confirmation hearings of Cabinet nominees at the National Assembly of South Korea are really interesting. The opposition parties usually begin by leaking various wrongdoings of the nominees ahead of the hearings.
As a result, people become very anxious waiting for the answers from the nominees in the hearings on them. Since the focus is on personal problems and wrongdoings instead of their policy direction and political ideology, the hearings draw much attention from many people just like an interesting drama does.
Of course, Cabinet nominees must have appropriate qualifications. Qualifications can be legal and ethical ones. Legal qualification is rather simple. A candidate who has a criminal record and who is not able, at least, to abide by the law, should not be qualified to be a minister.
The more difficult problem is ethical qualification. What counts as an ethical defect can depend on the culture and tradition of the country. It seems that ethical qualification is more important in Korea, a nation that grew tired of the continuous ethical wrongdoings of past leaders.
According to a recent poll, 65 percent of Koreans think that those who registered a phony address of residency for the purpose of sending their children to a better school are not qualified to be a minister.
Likewise, any kind of questionable real estate investment, tax evasion, phony residence registration, military draft evasion, use of inflammatory language in public and so on can make the nominees unfit as a minister.
In fact, since the leaders are the so-called role models whom young people should respect, even a small ethical issue can lead to big disappointment.
In the U.S., the Congress consists of two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives. The House has 435 representatives, one representing each district of approximately 620,000 citizens.
So, 435 times 620,000 equals roughly the total population of the U.S. Each representative comes from a distinct geographic district. The Senate was created from the fear that a few big states like California, Texas, New York and Illinois, could get together to form a majority and thus control Congress.
The Senate has 100 seats, that is, two per state regardless of the size of the state. A small population state like Alaska, Delaware or South Dakota has two senators and one representative. On the other hand, California has two senators and 53 representatives.
Any piece of legislation must pass both the Senate and the House. Since the House represents the people of congressional districts and is closer to the people than the Senate, it has the power to first deliberate and approve the budget which is related to their wallets.
The Senate has the power of confirmation of government appointments such as the secretaries of departments, federal judges and so on. The president nominates the candidates and the final appointments are approved in the Senate through the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing process.
Sometimes the hearings can be contentious and, even, entertaining, as was the case with Judge Clarence Thomas, who is the only current black justice on the U.S. Supreme Court. The hearing had the highest TV ratings at the time, since it was like watching an adult movie.
Before the hearing of Thomas, a female professor of the law school in Brandeis University, Anita Hill, sent a letter to the committee claiming that someone like Thomas should not become a justice of the Supreme Court.
Hill testified in the hearing that she was sexually harassed by Thomas. It was Oct. 10, 1991. The hearing was broadcasted nationwide live on TV for next three days with one of the highest nationwide ratings.
Republican senators posed their questions in defense of Thomas, who is known as a conservative judge.
Their questions for Hill were scandalous. “Did he forcefully take you to bed?’ She answered “No.” “Did he try to kiss you against your will?” “No.” “Did he touch your body?” ”No.” This was a really shocking testimony.
However, the Senate Judiciary Committee, all male members, concluded that it could not be regarded as sexual harassment and eventually approved Judge Thomas.
This decision made feminist organizations furious. They claimed that hiring this ethically defective person as a U.S. Supreme justice was an act of humiliation and an insult to all women.
Since then, feminist organizations started a united campaign to send women to Congress. In that year, the largest number of women in the history of America was elected to Congress. The Senate Judiciary Committee, traditionally all male, now has 2 female members.
In the U.S., a current member of the Congress cannot be the secretary of a department at the same time as being in Congress. The reason is that it is against the principle of checks and balances of our democratic system.
A member of the Congress, which should provide a check on the administration, cannot be a department head of the executive branch at a same time. This is similar to why a judge cannot be a defense attorney simultaneously wearing two hats. It contradicts the principle of the separation of powers.
1. To become the secretary of a department, the nominee must resign from the Congress and attend a confirmation hearing after turning over his duties to his successor, who would be elected by a special election. This is due to the principle that a member of Congress elected by the people should serve the people at all times, without missing even one day.
2. There is a thorough, comprehensive background check on the nominee. If the slightest ethical defect is found, the Nomination Committee, usually appointed by the President, seeks another nominee.
3. Sometimes, the committee will meet the leaders of the opposition party quietly, and ask their opinion about the particular recommended nominees before a hearing. If there is strong objection from the opposition party leader, they will often seek another nominee.
4. The decision of the Congress is final. The President cannot proceed with an appointment if the Congress rejects the nominee. A new candidate must be named.
In many cases, prospective candidates have actually declined the offer because of these long public hearings.
Jay Kim is a former U.S. congressman. He serves as chairman of the Washington Korean-American Forum. For more information, visit Kim’s website (www.jayckim.com).