Israel's High Court of Justice.
(photo credit: ISRAELTOURISM / WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
The Supreme Court became more conservative on Thursday night, with the appointment to the bench of top legal scholar Alex Stein and Lod District Court Judge Ofer Grosskopf.
The powerful Judicial Selection Committee, dominated by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, spent most of the day in deadlock. By night though, the two compromised with Shaked getting her No. 1 pick, Stein, and Hayut getting her assumed first choice, Grosskopf.
Overall, the result moves the court further to the conservative, or less interventionist, side of the spectrum, as both of the retiring justices, Uri Shoham and Yoram Danziger, are considered either classic or moderate activists.
The selection of Stein and Grosskopf, only one year after four other justices were appointed, could guide the country’s highest court on important issues from the settlements to migrants for decades to come.
The three blocks on the committee are the justices: Hayut, Deputy President Hanan Melcer and Danziger; the political block of Shaked, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and MKs Nurit Koren (Likud) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu); and the Israeli Bar Association block of president Efi Naveh and Elana Sackar.
Before Shaked took office in 2015, the three Supreme Court representatives could veto candidates.
But Shaked cut deals with the Bar Association and got Ilatov appointed to the panel as the “opposition” MK, despite his party being sympathetic to Shaked’s view of the court and even later joining the coalition.
This gave Shaked enough leverage to require the blocks to compromise when appointing justices.
Like the four appointments in February 2017, this round put the ideological balance and direction of the court into play.
Before February 2017, the liberal wing had a decisive advantage.
However, three of the four justices who stepped down since February 2017 were viewed as either very or moderately liberal.
They were replaced with two conservatives, Yosef Elron and David Mintz, and one moderate, Yael Willner, shifting the balance.
Along with the moderates, Thursday’s appointments could start to more decisively turn some major votes in Shaked’s direction, on some issues giving the conservatives an eight to six majority.
Stein has published a great deal in the US and is respected on all sides of the debate.
But the conservative camp has said he could be the conservative answer to former Supreme Court liberal president Aharon Barak. They have said Stein could draft dazzling legal opinions to challenge the underpinnings of Barak’s 1990s “judicial revolution” that empowered the court in an unprecedented way.
Grosskopf has issued major and complex decisions impacting the whole Israeli market.
Also on Thursday, the committee made history by selecting the first-ever female Haredi judge when it named Chavi Toker as a Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge.
Various MKs criticized Thursday’s appointments for under-representation of women and Arabs on the bench.
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