Supreme Court of Israel.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A sharp dispute between committee members Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and MK Robert Ilatov over whether he can meet privately with nominees to the court became public on Wednesday, when Yediot Aharonot published an excerpt from the transcript from a session of the Judicial Selection Committee.
The battle is crucial as the committee will be appointing a block of four Supreme Court justices, likely within the coming month, which will shape the face of the 11-member judicial branch for years to come.
Politicians on the Right such as Ilatov are fighting for greater influence in order to appoint judges who will be less activist in canceling Knesset legislation.
While the argument seems procedural, it reflects efforts by politicians to discern judges’ worldview on issues such as judicial activism, efforts which the Supreme Court wants to prevent.
Following the exposé, the full transcript of the dramatic September 29 meeting was published later on Wednesday by the court spokesman’s office.
The nine-member Judicial Selection Committee is made up of Naor, Supreme Court Vice President Elyakim Rubinstein, Justice Salim Joubran, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Ilatov, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, MK Nurit Koren (Likud), and the Israel Bar Association representatives, Khaled Zoabi and Ilana Sakar.
In the transcript, Ilatov complains that the judges and lawyers on the committee all have much greater access to the judicial nominees by the nature of their work. He demands the right to hold personal meetings so that he can get a better feel for the nominees.
Naor says he is asking to cross a “redline,” and she will “defend the judges from politicization.” She adds that only judges know the other judges, which is unavoidable and desirable, and that the lawyers only know the nominees from court appearances.
Shaked pops in and says that the lawyers also talk to judges outside of court appearances (she does not explain this – but judges and lawyers have some limited interaction in public law conferences). She also appeared to back Ilatov, saying that learning about “judges’ worldviews is not necessarily political.”
Naor brushes off Shaked and offers group meetings with other judicial members present. Eventually Ilatov says he is worried that without a one-on-one the judges will not speak freely, “because every organization has its own internal politics and interests.”
Sakar then chimes in, asking, “You want to check their politics?” Ilatov responds, “They want to meet with me, not I with them.”
Naor says: “I will put an end to that” (explaining earlier that it is a violation of judicial ethics for judges to privately meet with politicians).
Ilatov: “This is going too far. I am not an enemy of the state.”
Naor: “It is not going too far. I respect you and like you, but a judge needs to conduct himself according to the principles of ethics. I am not talking about external [non-judge, such as academics] candidates. Robert raises meeting outside of the context of the committee and with this I disagree.”
Rubinstein then backs Naor.
The committee eventually decided to add to the materials it provides to its members past recommendations by senior judges regarding the candidates for promotions generally, but Naor appears to have won on the specific issue.
Already committee members received copies of candidates’ major decisions and résumés, as well as the judicial branch’s position on the candidate, general information, and a subgroup of the committee interviews all candidates.