High Court refuses petition against 'Grunis Law'

Movement for Quality Government asked for law to be annulled, said it was "unconstitutional, personal."

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January 17, 2012 13:05
3 minute read.
Israel's Supreme Court

Israeli Supreme Court 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/FILE)

 
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The High Court of Justice refused a petition by the Movement for Quality Government watchdog group against the socalled “Grunis Law” on Tuesday, saying that the petitioners had not shown grounds to demonstrate that the legislation violated the Basic Laws.

The “Grunis Law,” which the Knesset passed earlier this month, effectively paves the way for Supreme Court Justice Asher Dan Grunis to replace Dorit Beinisch as Supreme Court president after her retirement in February.

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An amendment to the existing Courts Law, it lowers the minimum tenure for a Supreme Court president from three to two years and overturns a previous change to the Courts Law initiated in 2007 by then-justice minister Daniel Friedmann, which stipulated a justice could only be elected Supreme Court President if he or she could serve a three-year minimum term.

As the retirement age for presidents is 70, this effectively ruled out Grunis, who will be 67 years and 41 days old on the day Beinisch retires. By reducing the minimum term to just two years, the Grunis Law would overturn that amendment and make him eligible for the Supreme Court presidency.

Critics of the law, including the Movement for Quality Government, say that it is “personal” legislation, as politicians on the Right believe Grunis’s views on judicial activism make him less likely to order the dismantling of West Bank homes or to rule against other decisions made by state authorities.

In its petition, the watchdog group also called the law “a fatal blow that will harm judicial independence and public confidence, and as a result harm the rule of law and societal well-being.”

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However, in ruling to reject the petition, Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin, Justice Edna Arbel and Justice Elyakim Rubinstein said that the Movement for Quality Government had not presented grounds to show that the Grunis Law violated fundamental human rights or any of the Basic Laws. The justices said they believed that the petitioners’ main objection to the law was that it sought “to determine directly and in a personal manner the identity of the next Supreme Court president.”

The justices noted that during a hearing on the petition last week, the Knesset’s attorney Gur Bligh had noted that the Judicial Appointments Committee normally selected the most senior serving Supreme Court justice as president, as long as he or she met the minimum tenure requirements. Therefore, Bligh argued, when Friedmann made the Court Law amendment in 2007, it was possible to predict its consequences as far as who would take over upon Beinisch’s 2012 retirement.

As such, he contended that the petitioners’ arguments regarding “personal legislation” could equally apply to Friedmann’s 2007 amendment to the Courts Law. That amendment, the state argued, could also be dubbed a “Grunis Law” because it had prevented Grunis’s election as Supreme Court president.

Rivlin further noted that the High Court’s role was not to use its authority to annul laws, except “in cases where there is a substantial violation of fundamental rights or basic values.” The High Court must distinguish among three main categories of Knesset decisions, Rivlin said – completed legislative acts, internal parliamentary procedures and quasi-judicial decisions.

“With regard to completed legislative acts, the court must respect the law as an expression of the people’s will,” he said.

MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union), who proposed the Grunis Law as a private bill in June 2011, welcomed the High Court’s decision, saying that the law had “ushered in a new era for the Supreme Court.”

“When I first proposed the Grunis Law, I started out alone,” he said. “It took a long time before we were able to convince the government and the coalition of the necessity of a law that would allow the Knesset to decide who would be the Supreme Court president.”

By rejecting the petition, Katz said, the Supreme Court justices had “taken on board the Knesset’s right to determine the Supreme Court president’s identity.”

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