Arief Hidayat had never thought of being a constitutional justice until one unusual Monday morning of 1 April 2013 at the Presidential Palace, when he stood in front of President Soesilo Bambang Yudhoyono to pledge an oath as a constitutional justice. Arief Hidayat was officially inaugurated to replace Constitutional Justice Mahfud MD, who ended his five-year tenure.
The state administration professor at Diponegoro University said that serving as a constitutional justice had never crossed his mind. Since he was a child, being teacher was his only dream. However, when asked about his reason to study jurisprudence, Arief revealed that his interest in social sciences started in high school.
“I have always been interested in law enforcement cases because at the time the authoritarian regime was still occupying our country. Yap Thiam Hien, Suardi Tasrif, and Adnan Buyung Nasution inspired me to study law, despite stronger interest in political science. After becoming a professor, I understood that the field of law study is inseparable from political science,” said the man born in 1956, reminiscing.
Arief said former Chief Constitutional Justice Jimly Asshiddqie convinced him to participate in the constitutional justice candidacy. However, because he was still serving as a dean, he didn’t proceed with the suggestion. “A constitutional justice is an honorable office and I didn’t think I deserved the position back then,” he said.
Lecturer Turned Constitutional Justice
Along his career, Arief focused in academia, with the goal of empowering the youth. “I wanted to spread the idea of developing Indonesia through well-managed law enforcement, but still, being a justice was far-fetched back then,” he said.
Arief said that once Prof. Satjipto Rahardjo told him that being lecturer wouldn’t make him rich materially. Instead of wealth, however, respect, knowledge, and honor are things that a lecturer could hope for.
“Prof. Satjipto said the highest career that I should aim for was being a professor. I was named a professor in 2008 by Undip. Being elected a dean was another milestone. I did everything the best as I could,” he said.
After his tenure as a dean ended, he summoned the courage to apply for the constitutional justice position through DPR (House of Representatives) with overwhelming support, mainly from fellow constitutional law professors, such as Saldi Isra from Andalas University. “When I registered with DPR for the fit and proper test, I had support from law faculties and constitutional study centers,” he said.
During the fit and proper test with the House Commission III, Arief presented a paper entitled “The Ultra Petita Principle in MKRI’s Judicial Review Decisions of Laws against the 1945 Constitution.” He was confirmed as a constitutional justice with 42 votes out of 48, winning over the other two contenders Sugianto (5 votes) and Djafar Al Bram (1 vote).
Arief said the adaptation process took a while because being a justice was completely new for him. “I realized that until today I’m still adapting. Constitutional justices not only serve as guardians of the Constitution but also of the state ideology, so it is a noble position for the nation’s future,” he said.
Arief was not unfamiliar with the Constitutional Court. The justice, who was born on February 3, 1956 in Semarang, was not a new actor in the field of law, especially in state administration. Aside from lecturing, he also chaired several organizations, such as the Central Java Lecturers Association, the Center for Constitutional and Democratic Studies, the Indonesian Gender Lecturers Association, and the Center for Environmental Studies. He also poured his passion into writing, with no less than 25 journals published in the last five years. As part of the friends of court, he had also been involved in events conducted by the Constitutional Court.
“I helped Constitutional Court’s Secretariate-General formulate Indonesia’s law faculty network. I was like a head of tribe who connected lecturers all over Indonesia through a juridical-romantic approach. I was dubbed a juridical-romantic expert,” he revealed.
Arief revealed that the nickname emerged because he often acted as an intermediary among constitutional law professors, who often glorify one approach more than the other. “In constitutional law, there are two approaches: normative and sociological. [Lecturers] often prefer one over the other when teaching their students. For me, the two complement each other and [should be used] depending on the research. To avoid any conflict, I called the best approach a juridical-romantic one,” he joked.
Arief realized that he is far from perfect. “I keep learning and that requires support from other justices. Being a justice is collegial, not to seek wealth, but to serve the people,” he said.
On the first day he took the office, Arief declared that he was ready to keep MKRI’s independency as a judicial institution. He asked that the people oversee his performance as a constitutional justice.
A Great Mandate
After two years in office, Arief was unanimously placed in a position of trust as a chief justice for 2015-2018. The position also made him as president of the Association of Asian Constitutional Courts and Equivalent Institutions (AACC) for 2015-2017, a milestone for the Constitutional Court at the international level.
“Even being a constitutional justice was unexpected, not to mention becoming a chief justice. I’d never dreamed of it. I wanted to be a lecturer but Allah gave me a mandate to serve as a constitutional justice,” he said.