Monday November 30th 2015

PM Blocks Bill to Vet Supreme Court Justices

by Sagit Levi

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud) reiterated his opposition on Tuesday to a proposal that would require candidates for Israel’s Supreme Court to be vetted by a Knesset committee.

The controversial bill was scheduled for a vote on Sunday in the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, but the vote was postponed at the last minute by Netanyahu amid a storm of criticism.

Likud Members of Knesset Z’ev Elkin and Yariv Levin first proposed the legislation in July in response to years of judicial activism viewed by much of the public as promoting narrow political and cultural agendas representing only a small percentage of Israel’s citizenry.

The Supreme Court has been accused by pro-democracy activists on several occasions of representing the class interests of Israel’s wealthiest citizens and sometimes even the local political interests of the European Union and United States.

The legislation proposed by Elkin and Levin states that every judge and president appointed to the Supreme Court would be subject to a public hearing in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Any appointment vetoed by the committee would not be able to serve in the Supreme Court.

“This law will break the hegemony of the anti-Zionist elite in the justice system and return the sovereignty of the people and the Knesset to democratic life in Israel,” Levin said when the bill was first put forward.

“Whoever vetoes laws should have to stand before the public and be chosen in a transparent and democratic process… This law will prevent the method in which Supreme Court judges appoint their friends to the bench, and will prevent judges with post-Zionist agendas from being appointed.”

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, along with a number of other Supreme Court justices and several senior legal officials claim the bill would undermine judicial independence and constitute an “assault on democracy.”

The bill’s supporters, however, argue that many democracies with highly independent courts, including the US, require those nominated for sensitive and influential judicial positions to be vetted by elected lawmakers.

While Netanyahu has publicly come out against the bill, he did not oppose two other pieces of legislation aimed at reforming the country’s judicial system, both of which passed their first plenary readings in the Knesset Monday night.

The first bill, dubbed the “Grunis Law” and initiated by MK Yaakov Katz (National Union), reduces the minimum number of years a prospective court president would have to serve from three years to two and is aimed at allowing Judge Asher Dan Grunis to become Chief Justice following the expiration of Beinisch’s term at the end of February 2012

Grunis has been known to interprete the Supreme Court’s mandate in a manner that respects the checks and balances of democracy and opposes the controversial judicial activism of Beinisch and her predecessor, Aharon Barak.

The second bill orders the Bar Association Judicial Selection Committee to establish regular methods for choosing who sits on the committee, as well as mandating the President of the Bar Association be an actual member of the committee.