19. Esther Hayut

Reigning in stormy times

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut  (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Esther Hayut has made her mark on the Supreme Court approximately one year into taking office.
She has fought and negotiated with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked over new appointments to the court, with each side getting to pick a justice more to their liking.
Along with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit and the Kulanu Party, Hayut recently headed off a push by Shaked and Bayit Yehudi to give 61 members of the Knesset the power to veto Supreme Court rulings.
In May, she delivered an unusually blunt speech, warning that if the proposed bill was passed, the Supreme Court would lose its independence, and there would be no entity to protect the rights of the weak.
She said the status of the Supreme Court was not the issue, but rather the eradication of basic human rights and the legal chaos that would result.
Taking office at the relatively young age of 64, Hayut will run the court for six years – longer than both recent chief justices Asher Grunis and Miriam Naor combined.
Hayut is respected by both sides of the debates over judicial interpretation, which probably reflects her mostly centrist positions, even if she is more in the moderate–activist camp.
Far more like Naor and Grunis than Aharon Barak or Dorit Beinisch, the true activist chief justices, she is frequently in the majority when the court splits but upholds Knesset laws.
In terms of the feel of her courtroom, she has been aggressive on the bench, interrupting even famous lawyers much more frequently than her predecessors.
While the High Court during her reign has pressed the government to resolve the issue of haredim (ultra-Orthodox) integrating into the IDF, her court still has two mega-issues it will need to rule on: the Settlements Regulations Law and the Jewish Nation-State Law.
Hayut has waded into two other controversies. She quickly sidelined a lower court judge for improper texting with a prosecutor regarding detention hearings. She also quickly offered her own personal testimony relating to accusations (eventually dismissed) that a former aide to the prime minister was trying to improperly influence the appointment of the attorney-general in 2015.
Prior to 1990, Hayut spent more than a decade in the private sector, before climbing up the judicial ladder post-by-post from 1990-2004 until reaching the Supreme Court.