Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Negotiations to appoint new Supreme Court justices blew up on Thursday after court President Miriam Naor severed ties with Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, saying she had placed a “gun on the table.”
“I am compelled to notify you,” Naor wrote Shaked, “that along with Deputy Supreme Court President [Elyakim] Rubinstein and Justice [Salim] Joubran, that we have no intention of continuing to pre-discuss and consult with you at this time with regard to formulating a list of candidates and with regard to possible compromises.”
Naor’s extraordinary rebuke was sent out to the media in an unprecedented open letter. She was referring to threats made through the media – apparently at the behest of Shaked – to push legislation that would allow the justice minister and others in the political echelon to appoint judges against the Supreme Court’s wishes.
Putting forward such a bill “at the current time and circumstances constitutes placing a gun on the table,” Naor wrote.
For several days, stories had been coming out citing sources close to Shaked as saying the justice minister would back legislation sponsored by MK Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu). The bill would allow the appointment of four new justices with a simple majority of the Judicial Selection Committee – meaning the appointments could go through even if all of the justices on the committee opposed them.
Several years ago, the Knesset passed a law stating that seven of the nine members of the committee must support a candidate if there is to be an appointment.
There are just three justices on the committee: Naor, Rubinstein and Joubran. A simple majority could effectively mute their voices in appointments to the bench.
Naor said Shaked’s silence following the media reports served to confirm her support for the threats, and made it impossible for the two to negotiate. She added that the justices would show up only for official meetings of the committee, and would not be pressured or extorted.
Naor is known as a mild-mannered, ideologically middle-ofthe- road justice who is not enamored of judicial activism. Generally, she has allowed Shaked to rule the airwaves with criticism of the court. The letter signaled that in her eyes, Shaked had now crossed a line.
In the past, the court indicated it was ready to declare laws unconstitutional if it viewed them as threatening the rule of law or democracy, something vehemently opposed by right-wing elements.
The Supreme Court president also made a veiled threat that if the Knesset tried to change the rules of the game, the top court had powers to push back. This could mean Naor is ready to declare as unconstitutional any change to the method for appointing new justices.
Shaked’s office responded tersely, saying “the meetings of the Judicial Selection Committee will continue as scheduled. In the coming days, a list of candidates for the Supreme Court will be published.”
Her spokesman refused to elaborate when asked how Shaked expected the committee to go on with its work as if nothing had happened.
The four justices who will be stepping down at different points over the coming year are Naor, Rubinstein, Joubran and Zvi Zilbertal.
Though their retirement dates are spread out over several months, the committee is expected to select their replacements all at once.
Naor is due to be replaced in October 2017 by Esther Hayot after nearly three years as court president.
Media reports indicate that the main bone of contention is the justices’ rejection of Shaked’s candidate, Bar-Ilan University professor Gidon Sapir, and the minister’s rejection of the justices’ candidates, Tel Aviv District Court Judge Ruth Ronen and Haifa District Court Judge Ron Sokol. Several other candidates have been rumored to be in the running for Rubinstein’s, Joubran’s and Zilbertal’s slots.
Joubran is the court’s “Israeli- Arab justice,” reducing the competition for his slot to two likely candidates: Tel Aviv District Court judges Khaled Kabuv and George Kara.