Given the controversy in Manila over the "midnight appointment" of a new Chief Justice, I thought it'd be worthwhile to actually analyze the Supreme Court case involved. Too often, pundits and politicians talk about these cases without reading them. I certainly can understand the reluctance to read such cases - this one is quite long and has legalese. Nonetheless, I think it's incumbent upon us to actually understand the Court's reasoning before either supporting or attacking the decision. As such, I've read it and summarized a few key points below.
Basically, this entire controversy was caused by an inconvenient birthday. Chief Justice Reynato Puno will turn 70 on May 17, 2010. Under the Philippine constitution, any justice must retire upon reaching the age of 70, so Justice Puno will step down from the court and leave a vacancy. Const. (1987), Cap. VIII, § 11, (Phil.). However, another section of the constitution seems to prohibit the president from making any appointments two months before the next election and up to the end of her term in office. Const. (1987), Cap. VII, § 15, (Phil.). Since the next election will be held on May 10 - just a week before Justice Puno retires - the question arises of whether current President Arroyo could fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. In De Castro v. Judicial and Bar Council, the Supreme Court 9-1 that Arroyo could appoint a new chief justice before stepping down.
Indeed, the issues affect everyone (including the petitioners), regardless of one’s personal interest in life, because they concern that great doubt about the authority of the incumbent President to appoint not only the successor of the retiring incumbent Chief Justice,
Another legal hurdle the petitioners faced was whether the case was ripe for adjudication. The Judicial and Bar Council (JBC), a joint committee of government officials and private lawyers who recommend nominees for the Supreme Court, has not yet interviewed or proposed nominees. Theoretically, this might make it to early to decide whether the president could appoint a new justice because nothing has actually happened. However, the Supreme Court decided that the outcome of the case:
will not be an abstraction, or a merely hypothetical exercise. The resolution of the controversy will surely settle – with finality – the nagging questions that are preventing the JBC from moving on with the process that it already began
Two months immediately before the next presidential elections and up to the end of his term, a President or Acting President shall not make appointments, except temporary appointments to executive positions when continued vacancies therein will prejudice public service or endanger public safety. Const. (1987), Cap. VII, § 15, (Phil.).
Any vacancy [on the Supreme Court] shall be filled within ninety days from the occurrence thereof. Const. (1987), Cap. VIII, § 4(1), (Phil.).
the intervention of the JBC eliminates the danger that appointments to the Judiciary can be made for the purpose of buying votes in a coming presidential election, or of satisfying partisan considerations... Indeed, the creation of the JBC was precisely intended to de-politicizethe Judiciary...