Analysis: The politicians fight back

Friedman's appointment is a rejection of the legal system by the entire political class.

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February 6, 2007 23:31
2 minute read.
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The appointment of the first Justice Minister who not only believes in shaking up the judicial system, but also has the necessary experience, intellectual capacity and credentials to do so, might have been made by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, but it represents a rejection of the legal system by the entire political class. Only a few years ago, calls to curtail the power of the Supreme Court came exclusively from the religious and right-wing parties. The approval on Tuesday from all sides of the political spectrum for Prof. Daniel Friedman's appointment promises that he will have little trouble securing parliamentary backing for drastic reforms. It took the indictment and conviction of one of their own, Haim Ramon, to push most of the MKs into the anti-Supreme Court camp, and there is now a clear majority for adjusting the balance of powers. Friedman, if his writings over the last few years are anything to go by, is in favor of totally overhauling the relationship between the judiciary, Knesset and government. The Justice Minister, of course, has no control over verdicts in the various courts, nor can he tell the attorney-general and state prosecutor when to press charges. He does, though, have the power to radically change the way the courts work. The minister allocates budgets and salaries, thereby determining the size of the courts. He can push through legislation altering their powers and even establish new levels of the judiciary. As chairman of the Judicial Appointments Committee, he has a pivotal role in deciding who will sit on the bench, especially if he succeeds in implementing his own recommendation to dilute the presence of Supreme Court justices on the committee. If former district court judge and director of the Courts Administration Boaz Okon, now estranged from the system, is appointed director-general at the Justice Ministry, Friedman will have the perfect administrator for carrying out his plans. As a veteran law school professor and former dean, Israel Prize laureate and member of the National Academy of Sciences, Friedman would have been expected to use his stature to defend the powers of the Supreme Court. Instead he has gone over to the other side, to try to realize the politicians long-standing dream of clipping the court's wings. He supports abolishing the power of the Supreme Court to cancel laws and to intervene in the government's policy, and favors establishing a separate court to deal with constitutional issues, a step that would significantly degrade the Supreme Court's stature. Not that Friedman believes that it's especially high right now. He has been quite open in the past about his opinion of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, whom he considers a legal lightweight and a vindictive, power-hungry individual. Friedman, though, has another, less well-known agenda. He might be a fierce critic of the Supreme Court, but in other ways, he is a classical liberal lefty. The religious politicians who are crowing this week over his selection might find they got more than they bargained for, when he announces plans for more constitutional legislation. Five months after her appointment, Beinisch is having to pay for the excesses of her predecessor. Aharon Barak, in his 11 years at the head of the court, led the heavy-handed activist line that so infuriated the politicians. Barak, the secular saint, beloved of the liberal classes and the media, could get away with it. Beinisch, though, is about to discover the limits of her power.

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