Esther Hayut designated next chief justice by committee

The Supreme Court president is controversially decided by seniority.

September 5, 2017 11:42
2 minute read.
Esther Hayut, newly elected president of the Supreme Court, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and curre

Esther Hayut, newly elected president of the Supreme Court, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and current Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, September 5, 2017.. (photo credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

The Judicial Selection Committee on Tuesday unanimously designated Esther Hayut as the next president of the Supreme Court.

Hayut will replace current president, Miriam Naor, in October, when Naor reaches the mandatory retirement age for judges of 70.

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The committee also selected Justice Hanan Melcer as the next deputy president.

Hayut will become the third female of the last four chief justices.

President Reuven Rivlin, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Naor and others all issued warm statements of congratulations to Hayut.

Though few people outside the judicial establishment have heard of Hayut, she may end up with a much greater legacy than some predecessors.

Her younger age, 64, means she will run the court for six years – longer than did both recent chief justices Asher Grunis and Naor combined.

Hayut is more of a consensus builder than well-known justices such as Salim Joubran, Elyakim Rubinstein and others, who are known for their dramatic judicial opinions and readiness to write fierce dissents.

The rule that the Supreme Court president is decided by seniority – as opposed to charisma and ability to stand out among the justices – played a decisive role in paving the road toward her ascending to become chief justice.

Shaked had put a hold on Hayut’s appointment for some months, objecting to the principle of seniority and wanting a say in choosing Naor’s successor.

But after holding a public debate about the issue, when none of the other Supreme Court justices was willing to submit his or her name to compete with Hayut, Shaked recently relented in her opposition.

Committee member and Likud MK Nurit Koren boycotted the meeting as part of her ongoing opposition to the seniority principle, saying on Twitter that she was “not willing to be a rubber stamp.”

Hayut is respected by both sides of the debates over judicial interpretation, probably reflective of 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 – Hayut is frequently in the majority when the court splits but upholds a Knesset law.

In one case, the 3-2 March 2016 decision over whether to strike down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s natural gas law, she even voted in the minority against striking down the entire law when Rubinstein, often viewed as more conservative, was in the majority.

Where Justice Menachem Mazuz has dissented from house demolitions of terrorists, Hayut has at most expressed some mixed feelings, but said she will support the court’s precedent permitting the demolitions.

However, on religion and state issues, migrants’ cases, minority rights’ issues, or where the majority is against the Knesset or challenges Supreme Court precedent – such as the Settlements Regulation Law – Hayut will likely remain in the moderate-liberal camp where Naor resided.

Hayut spent more than a decade in the private sector before climbing up the judicial ladder post-by-post from 1990 through 2004 until reaching the Supreme Court.

She was also Central Elections Commission chairwoman from May 2015 to March 2017, though there was no national election during that time.

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