With the Knesset set to vote next week on two controversial private bills to
make changes to Supreme Court justice appointments, constitutional law expert
Prof. Barak Medina says the proposed legislation will not destroy democracy but
does reflect MKs’ growing lack of restraint over creating “personal laws” to
suit their political goals.
Barak, dean of the law faculty at the Hebrew
University of Jerusalem, told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday that the so-called
Grunis and Sohlberg bills will effectively mean only minor changes to judicial
appointments if they are passed into law.
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However, both bills are an
attempt by MKs to influence the identities of future Supreme Court justices by
appointing less “active” justices who are unlikely to challenge government
decisions, Medina said.
“The bills don’t mean the end of Israeli
democracy but they do show a lack of restraint [of MKs],” said
“They reflect a political culture that doesn’t accept that MKs
can’t change the rules of the game according to their current
The first bill, dubbed the “Grunis Bill,” is a private bill
presented by MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) to reduce the Supreme Court
president’s minimum tenure, and is aimed to allow Supreme Court Justice Asher
Dan Grunis to take over as president when Justice Dorit Beinisch retires in
That bill passed its preliminary reading in July and is
expected to go through its second and third readings on Monday.
will only really affect the identity of the next Supreme Court president,” said
Medina. “It will allow Grunis to be appointed as president, but it will not
affect the content of the court’s decisions as the president only has a single
Medina noted that the “Grunis Bill” merely overturns a change in
the Courts Law initiated three years ago by then justice minister Daniel
Friedmann, which stipulated a justice could only become president if he could
serve a three-year minimum term. The law effectively barred Grunis – who will be
67 years and 41 days old on the day Beinisch retires from the presidency – from
taking the office. The retirement age for justices is 70.
While it will
not have any drastic effect on the Supreme Court’s rulings, Medina said the
“Grunis Bill changes the rules of the game according to personal
The second of the controversial bills, dubbed the “Sohlberg
Bill,” will compel the Israel Bar Association to select one judicial selection
committee member from each of its two main factions. After the Knesset’s
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee debated the bill on Wednesday, it will
go for its first reading in the plenum on Monday.
“This bill also
proposes something formal about how the IBA should select members for the
judicial selection committee, which is perfectly legitimate,” said
However, Medina said that, like the “Grunis Bill,” the “Sohlberg
Bill” proposes changes only in order to influence the identity of the IBA’s
representative on the committee, and by extension the identity of future Supreme
The bill is expected to pave the way for Jerusalem District
Court Judge Noam Sohlberg, who is considered conservative, to be elected to the
In the past, former IBA president Yori Geiron, known as a
close associate of Beinisch, usually selected both judicial selection committee
candidates from the IBA’s dominant faction.
If the “Sohlberg and Grunis
bills” are passed into law, Medina said there is little chance of the High Court
of Justice overturning them, should anyone petition to do so.
Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, has the power to rule on petitions
against decisions made by government authorities, and it is common for petitions
to be filed against controversial laws, such as the “Anti-boycott Law” that
passed several months ago.
“The court is very cautious about reviewing
legislation that deals with the court itself,” said Medina.
dangerous than the “Grunis and Sohlberg bills,” Medina said, is the judicial
selection reform bill, which would require candidates for the Supreme Court
judiciary to be appointed only after a public hearing before the Knesset’s
Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Currently, Supreme Court justices are
elected by a non-member judicial selection committee, the majority of whose
members are lawyers by profession.
“The bill is completely in conflict
with the Israeli system,” said Medina, adding that the bill, if passed into law,
could severely affect public confidence in Israel’s most important legal
institution, Medina warned.
“In Israel, there is a prevailing idea that
the judiciary is apolitical, even though of course all judges are human and have
political beliefs,” he said. “But judges are not supposed to expose their
political opinions, so the public can have confidence in court
The proposed bill would change all that, because judges would
be forced to expose their political opinions in a public hearing, which would
directly affect their chances of being appointed to the Supreme
However, Medina said the bill was unlikely to go
The Ministerial Committee for Legislation was due to debate the
bill on Sunday, but was canceled after Attorney- General Yehuda Weinstein
expressed his opposition to the proposed legislation to Prime Minister Binyamin
Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman. Weinstein said that the bill
raises constitutional difficulties and concerns about the politicization of the