C'tee fails to pick new Supreme Court judges

Lack of consensus among Judicial Selection C'tee over candidates means meeting ended without appointments, a new list to be drawn up.

By
November 20, 2011 21:11
4 minute read.
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311. (photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)

The Judicial Selection Committee convened on Sunday to discuss the appointment of two new Supreme Court justices, but ended without the nine-member committee reaching a consensus over candidates.

The committee did not even agree to appoint justices on a temporary basis to alleviate the growing backlog of cases at the Supreme Court.
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Noam Sohlberg, a Jerusalem District court judge, was on the list of Supreme Court candidates, along with Tel Aviv District Court Judge Dvora Berliner and Jerusalem District Court Judge Zvi Zylbertal.

It is expected that a new list of candidates will be drawn up and the committee will reconvene in several weeks in another attempt to appoint justices.

Before Sunday’s meeting, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, a member of the selection committee, had expressed optimism that it would be fruitful.

“I hope we can get at least seven of the nine committee members to select at least two justices,” Erdan said. To be selected as a Supreme Court justice, a candidate requires the votes of seven of the nine member of the Judicial Selection Committee.

Five of those members belong to the legal profession.

These are the three Supreme Court justices (Dorit Beinisch, Miriam Naor, and Asher Dan Grunis) and the two representatives of the Israel Bar Association, Rachel Ben-Ari and Pini Marinsky.

The remaining four members are politicians, of which two are cabinet members – Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan – and two are MKs, David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) and Uri Ariel (National Union).

Also before the committee convened on Sunday evening, Ariel said the Supreme Court was under pressure because of a lack of justices, and so it was important that new ones be selected this week.

The Supreme Court, like the rest of the judiciary, is severely understaffed and faces a growing mountain of cases. That situation has worsened since the justice Ayala Procaccia’s retirement in April and justice Edmund Levi’s in October.

In addition, Justice Yoram Danziger has been on leave since the summer while police question him in connection with the corruption case against Bat Yam Mayor Shlomo Lahiani.

Supreme Court President Beinisch had been expected to vote for Sohlberg’s appointment on Sunday, but in the past few days sources around the Beinisch hinted that she may have become less inclined to do so following the growing storm over proposed legislation to alter how justices are chosen.

One of those pieces of legislation, dubbed the “Sohlberg Bill,” would change the way the two representatives of the Israel Bar Association are elected to the Judicial Selection Committee, so that one is a member of the Bar’s more conservative opposition faction.

Critics on the Left have slammed that bill, which passed its preliminary reading last week, as an attempt to pave the way for Sohlberg’s appointment to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, 51 academics and intellectuals including writer Yoram Kaniuk, artist David Tartakover and education professor Chaim Adler signed a letter to Beinisch asking her not to join in any judicial selection committee deal that would allow Sohlberg to be appointed.

Sohlberg is considered a conservative judge and has also been criticized by the Left because he lives in Alon Shvut, a settlement in Gush Etzion south of Jerusalem. He advised previous attorneys-general Yosef Harish, Michael Ben-Yair and Elyakim Rubinstein, was appointed a judge in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court in 1998 and then to the district court in 2005.

A second bone of contention over the list of Supreme Court justice candidates is that it does not include any Sephardic judges.

Both right-wing MKs and left-wing NGOs voiced their support this week for Sephardic candidates to be put forward for the Supreme Court. Following Levi’s retirement, there are no Sephardic justices on the court.

MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) accused the Supreme Court of being a “clique” that selected justices on a “friend bring a friend” basis, and said the judiciary did not reflect the composition of society.

Against this background, speculation has mounted in the past few days that Beinisch will not oppose the proposal of former attorney-general Menahem Mazuz, who is Sephardic, as a candidate for the court.

Shortly before Sunday’s Judicial Selection Committee meeting, Ariel said that at least one Supreme Court justice should be Sephardic.

“There are plenty of Sephardic judges currently serving in the district courts who are worthy of being elected to the Supreme Court bench,” the MK said.

The new list of candidates for the Supreme Court is likely now to include at least one Sephardic judge.

Following Sunday's committee meeting, attorney Nachi Eyal, director of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which has supported the “Sohlberg Bill,” slammed the absence of judicial appointments.

“There is no sense in rejecting candidates when for more than half a year the court has had to work with a reduced staff,” Eyal said. “The court's workload will only increase and public confidence in the system will be reduced.”


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