(photo credit: Courtesy)
Supreme Court President Asher D. Grunis retired on Thursday in an elaborate ceremony at the Supreme Court attended by three past justice ministers, three former supreme court presidents, the attorney-general, state attorney and other top officials.
Incoming Supreme Court president Miriam Naor was sworn in later in the day by President Reuven Rivlin at his residence.
Grunis left the bench declaring with uncharacteristic drama that the “power of this country is not just from military and economic power, it also comes somewhat, or mostly, from the state’s Jewish and democratic character and from a strong and independent judicial system.”
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon and Grunis himself all mentioned that he was frequently in the minority on major decisions, despite being the chief justice.
This has sometimes been an awkward point for Grunis and while much of the media has proclaimed Naor, having taken over the court early in a series of recent decisions, she and Grunis appeared to show genuine affection for each other.
Naor even got Grunis uncharacteristically to laugh twice, once with a reference to being happy to see his family – despite his young grandchildren being kept out of the courtroom.
Also despite being in the minority often, Grunis expressed complete support for the court’s powers of judicial review of Knesset laws to be maintained and slammed those trying to limit those powers as going beyond acceptable kinds of oversight of the courts, which he encourages.
Many speakers and Grunis also, praised and emphasized his unprecedented push to keep cases he viewed as spurious out of the courts, a position which many human rights group have criticized as chilling the defense of human rights.
Notably absent from the ceremony was Israel Bar Association President Doron Barzilay, who spoke at Justice Edna Arbel’s recent retirement ceremony, but was banned from Grunis’s due to an ongoing war between the two over a range of issues.
The war heated up earlier in the week with Barzilay unveiling a survey of over 4,000 lawyers in which Grunis was given among the lowest approval ratings. The court hit back, saying that only a few dozen of the 4,000 lawyers had evaluated him.
Grunis and Weinstein tend to present serious faces in public, but another humorous moment occurred when Weinstein was introducing the former justice ministers present, and almost missed Tzipi Livni, as she had popped in at the last second.
Later, Naor’s swearing in ceremony was the fifth and last time in 35 years that she had promised in the President’s residence to uphold the laws of the State of Israel.
This time she also pledged to do everything in her power to maintain the independence of the courts, which she said was so vital in avoiding conflicts of interest and guaranteeing justice.
She grew up in a pluralistic home she said in which she had been taught to respect everyone’s opinion even if she didn’t agree with it because “no-one has a monopoly on the truth.”
Grunis said that Naor was experienced in every aspect of the law, and he was confident she would have great achievements during her tenure and would advance legal reforms.
Rivlin, stressing the role of the Supreme Court in defending democracy and the rights of minorities, said that the democratic system depended on the confidence of the public in the judicial system and the institutions of government.
Public confidence had unfortunately waned in the latter he said, but he was pleased that this loss of trust did not include the Supreme Court, a factor for which he credited Grunis.
Addressing Naor, he told her: “You are entering the holy of holies of Israel’s democracy.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also emphasized the importance of democracy which he said must be strong both internally and externally.
The Supreme Court is the backbone of Israel’s democracy and represents the highest values in Jewish and civil law, he said, adding, “We will continue to defend Israeli democracy so that it will continue to defend us.”