Supreme Court of Israel.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Former justice minister and finance minister Yaakov Neeman had decades of achievements under his belt before his death at the age of 77 on Sunday.
But maybe what is most distinctive about his legacy were not the final objectives he achieved but his moving the entire legal system closer toward those objectives, as seen in the current era of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
He was involved in many battles, but three of them – designed to move the legal system in a more conservative direction – were about the role of the Supreme Court, the role of the attorney- general and the membership of the Supreme Court.
Neeman wanted the Knesset to be able to override Supreme Court rulings that declared Knesset laws unconstitutional. That has not happened. He wanted the attorney-general’s powers split between top legal adviser and top prosecutor.
That has not happened either.
But most importantly, he wanted to change the makeup of the Supreme Court itself. That has already started to happen. Neeman was able to put conservative justice Asher D. Grunis in as Supreme Court president for two-and-a-half years, breaking decades of liberal dominance of the court.
Grunis did not overcome the court’s majority liberal wing, but he did shift the balance in some key cases and completely changed the discussion, erecting new barriers to petitions receiving serious consideration.
His era unquestionably moved current Supreme Court President Miriam Naor to a more conservative direction than she would have taken had she been the immediate replacement for Dorit Beinisch.
Neeman also succeeded in getting conservative justices, such as Neal Hendel, Yitzhak Amit and Noam Sohlberg, appointed to the court.
Down the road, Sohlberg will likely have a significant term as Supreme Court president based on his seniority.
And the truth is, Neeman moved things more than the official record might show.
While the Supreme Court and attorney-general’s roles have not been changed, Shaked has picked up where Neeman left off, and has likely been in a much stronger position given the debate he promoted on the subject.
There is speculation even that current Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit may endorse or may not resist splitting his office’s powers upon his stepping down.
Shaked appears positioned to put additional conservative justices on the Supreme Court in the current round of appointments set for February.
Neeman was not the only soldier responsible for this shift. Justice minister Daniel Friedman before him – and the country’s general rightward shift – also made their impact.
But some say that Neeman’s personal, low-key and deal-cutting style, as well as his closeness to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, shifted the legal system in a conservative direction in ways that others could not have achieved.
In that respect, conservatives view him as a heroic fighter on the path to Shaked’s era, and liberals view his policies as laying the groundwork for the problems they now face with Shaked.