With his private life and judicial career largely unblemished, the parliamentary confirmation hearing for Constitutional Court chief nominee Lee Jin-sung on Wednesday proceeded smoothly, focusing on practical issues such as abortion, impartiality and judicial independence.
Flashing smiles at times, Lee maintained a veneer of stability -- a sharp contrast from the highly charged hearing on President Moon Jae-in's first pick for the court chief, whom the parliament voted down in September amid disputes over his ideological orientation.
During his opening remarks, the nominee caught lawmakers by surprise by reciting a short poem entitled "People living in a wise way," through which he underscored his commitment to safeguarding citizens' constitutional rights.
"I recited the poem based on my belief that we have to create a constitutional environment in which our kind-hearted citizens living like poets can preserve their basic human rights under the umbrella of the Constitution and not face any unreasonable discrimination," Lee said.
"We have tried to deliver verdicts while loving the people and the world from a balanced perspective," he added.
Late last month, the liberal president designated Lee to head the court, which has remained rudderless since January when its former chief Park Han-chul retired after six years of service. Lee has been part of the court's nine-member bench since September 2012.
Apparently concerned about the pressing need to end the court's drawn-out leadership void, opposition lawmakers were seen refraining from personal attacks that characterized past hearings for Cabinet nominees.
On a question about the military's alleged political interference during former governments, Lee bluntly said that it was "of course a violation of the Constitution."
"In the early 1960s and early 1980s, there were various problems caused by the then military-backed governments.... We have already in place rules on public servants' political neutrality, but in addition to that, (the country) has once again stressed the political neutrality of soldiers," he added.
Asked whether North Korea must be called the "main enemy," Lee said that he thought so.
But addressing the question of whether the long-disputed law banning activities to praise, encourage or propagandize the North's political ideals should be scrapped, Lee advocated for adjustments to prevent any abuse of the law rather than abrogating it.
As to the abortion issue, Lee said that allowing an abortion within a certain period of pregnancy would be "possible." He pointed to a "way to strike a balance between a fetus' right to life and a pregnant woman's right to self-determination." He refused to further elaborate, saying the top court is currently deliberating on the abortion issue.
Regarding the issue of those who face legal punishments due to their religion-based rejection of mandatory military service, Lee voiced thinly veiled support for them.
"I think we need to gravely accept the situation in which people dare to face punishments to protect their freedom of conscience, which is the basic one among human beings' freedoms," he said.
Lee also rejected the argument that alternative options to military duties should not be allowed in light of the persistent security threat from an increasingly provocative North Korea.
"There is a case like Armenia that allowed alternative service even during war," he said.
Lee's appointment requires consent from a majority of lawmakers present during a floor vote that can be set up by a majority of all 299 legislators. The ruling party has only 121 seats and is far short of a majority, necessitating opposition support.
On Wednesday evening, the National Assembly's special committee for confirmation hearing approved a report that Lee is qualified to be the Constitutional Court chief.
The National Assembly's plenary session will vote on Lee's appointment on Friday. (Yonhap News)