Lost to Find the Right Path
On April 11, 2017, President Joko Widodo officially inaugurated constitutional law professor Saldi Isra to replace Patrialis Akbar as constitutional justice for the 2017–2022 term. The professor, who was born on August 20, 1968, was proposed to President Joko Widodo by the justice selection committee (Pansel) of the Constitutional Court (MK) on April 3, 2017. In addition to Saldi, the committee at that time also proposed two other candidates—Nusa Cendana University (NTT) lecturer Bernard L. Tanya and former Director General of Legislation of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights Wicipto Setiadi.
The son of couple Ismail and Ratina was born with the name Sal. When he was in elementary school, he complained to his father about his name, which only consisted of three letters. The father added “-di” behind his name to form Saldi. When he was in 6th grade, he added “Isra” behind his first name, to stand for the names of his beloved parents.
“So the name Isra does not mean that I was born on the eve of Isra’ Mi’raj, but it is the amalgamation of my parents’ names, Is from Ismail and Ra from Ratina. I improvised with their names without their permissions; I just created it on my own,” the Doctor of Law of Gadjah Mada University said.
Saldi, who specialized in physics during high school, never imagined studying law. Like most young people of his age at that time, his goal was to enter the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB) or join the Indonesian Military Academy; moreover, he had above average grades. He also chose to enroll in ITB through PMDK (academic and talent achievement program), but luck was not on his side. However, he was not discouraged. He tried his luck once more by following Sipenmaru (university entrance test) in 1988 for the Geology Department of ITB. Again, he had to swallow a bitter pill when he didn’t pass. Although many discouraged him from enrolling in ITB, Saldi still insisted on taking the 1989 SPMB (university entrance test), which also resulted in failure.
After failing twice, finally Saldi decided to move to Jambi to find work. After earning enough money to continue his studies, he tried his luck again. In 1990, he re-enrolled through SPMB, but while he previously chose science majors, he turned to IPC (natural + social sciences) with pragmatic choices of major. The three majors he aimed for were the Department of Mining Engineering at Sriwijaya University, the Department of Civil Engineering at Andalas University, and finally, the Department of Law at Andalas University. His final choice, according to Saldi, was a choice that he did not think much about and that he chose merely to fill in the social science option.
Finally, Saldi passed the SPMB, but in a department that he had not expected: law. Nonetheless, his desire to continue his tertiary education was achieved. From Jambi, he returned to Padang. Unfortunately, Saldi’s acceptance into Andalas University’s Law Faculty was not necessarily welcomed by his family in Paninggahan, Solok. They would like him to continue to earn for his family. However, he managed to convince them that his studies would not burden the family’s economy. For this reason, he decided to earn money by teaching at a madrasah aliyah (Islamic high school) close to his hometown every weekend.
For Saldi, being a law student was truly a new experience. In school he had been familiar with mathematics and physics, but now he would have to read and write a lot. He refocused on his studies and obtained a 3.71 GPA. By the second semester, Saldi was convinced that his choice of studies was not wrong when he obtained a GPA of 4.0. It was no surprise that he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor degree in 1995 and a GPA of 3.86, the best in his class. After completing his undergraduate education, Saldi was immediately invited to teach at Bung Hatta University until October 1995 before finally moving to Andalas University, Padang.
Academic, Writer, and Activist
He taught at Andalas University for almost 22 years while continuing his postgraduate studies. He graduated with a master’s in public administration at the University of Malaya, Malaysia in 2001. In 2009, Saldi graduated cum laude with a doctorate degree from Gadjah Mada University Yogyakarta. A year later, he was appointed an honorary professor of constitutional law at Andalas University.
While teaching, Saldi was known to be a prolific writer, both in the media as well as national and international scientific journals. Thousands of his pieces that he has written since college days made him known to the public. No wonder he was often seen in the media, both printed and electronic, as a speaker. He was once the director of the Center for Constitutional Studies (PUSaKO) of the Andalas University’s Law Faculty, which focuses on constitutional law. He was also known as an anti-corruption activist and is well-known in the field of constitutional law in Indonesia as someone who “grew up in the streets.”
A Dream Came True
Initially, Saldi worried and pondered about his dream of becoming a constitutional justice. Working in constitutional law, he held that dream, but he imagined himself in the position at 55. Who knew, he was fated to achieve it at a relatively young age of 48.
It was not easy for him to decide to work toward his dream as a constitutional justice. He struggled with feeling inadequate and too young, and it was hard for him to leave his teaching post. However, finally, a piece of advice by Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court of the 2008–2013 period Moh. Mahfud M.D. encouraged him to apply for the position during a selection process in 2017 opened by President Joko Widodo. “Mr. Mahfud once said, ‘If you did not want to apply, you keep yourself from opening a pathway for a new generation in the Constitutional Court.’ So that became one of my motives,” the badminton fan said recalling the past.
His success was also thanks to the support of dear wife Leslie Annisa Taufik and their three children. For Saldi, family is home and where he returns to rest his body and mind away from his busy life. Family is his source of encouragement. He always strives to come home for dinner with his wife and children when he comes home to Padang.
“I come home from Jakarta with the last flight at 7:50 PM. I arrive in Padang at 10 PM. I try not to have dinner during the flight or at the airport lounge so I can come home for dinner with them (his wife and children). Even though the distance from the airport to home is 35 kilometers and I arrive home at 11 PM, they are still waiting,” he said.
He sincerely hopes his work with all the justices and employees at the Registrar’s Office and the Secretariat General of the Constitutional Court is able to contribute to returning the Constitutional Court’s dignity. He has high hopes that all elements in the Constitutional Court continuously work optimally to bring the Court to a higher level.