friedmann 224.88 AJ.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Perhaps no other figure in the legal world has had as great an impact in 2008 - for better or worse - as Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Many of Friedmann's initiatives - aimed at weakening the Supreme Court and its president and the office of the attorney-general - have been effectively blocked by the Labor Party. In fact, the only significant change he has been directly responsible for has been the law to limit the term in office of the presidents of all the courts, including the Supreme Court, to seven years. The roles of the Supreme Court president and the minister of justice will be somewhat weakened according to the new system of choosing the lower court judges.
But if in practical terms Friedmann has accomplished only a very small part of his ambitious and well-planned agenda, he has done precisely what his most vocal critics demanded of him. That is, he has launched a public debate regarding the role of the three branches of government and the possibility of making far-reaching reforms in the powers of the court and the attorney-general.
That was not Friedmann's aim. He would have liked to bulldoze all his reforms through the Knesset as quickly as possible and with as little public debate as possible. He regarded his unexpected call to the government as a window of opportunity that would not likely come again.
But by drafting a long list of bills and making many controversial public statements, he has single-handedly forced the public to think about the unthinkable. These call for restricting the High Court's ability to nullify legislation violating basic laws, restricting the topics on which the court can rule, restricting the right to petition the High Court of Justice, increasing the political representation on the Judges Election Committee and sharply reducing the advisory powers of the attorney-general.
Until former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak's retirement and Friedmann's appearance on the political stage, no one dared seriously challenge the house that Barak built.
Friedmann also demonstrated that criticism of the High Court's powers under Barak was not limited to haredim, right-wing religious nationalists and a handful of allegedly treacherous liberals. He proved he had strong support countrywide.
Friedmann also enjoyed some additional, filter-down success as well.
Although his bill to change the composition of the Judges Election Committee stalled, MK Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) easily steered through the legislature a private member's bill which restricts the power of the three Supreme Court justices on the panel.
It is not clear whether Friedmann will be able to continue his program in 2009. If not, he will still be able to fight for it as a newspaper columnist and highly respected legal academic.
It is interesting that none of the Kadima party members demanded to know of the candidates for party leader what their position was on the future of Daniel Friedmann in the government, should the new party leader succeed in forming one.
With the exception of the prime minister and the defense minister, it is hard to think of a single member of the outgoing cabinet who was as influential and controversial as Friedmann. From what we have seen of him as justice minister in the past 18 months, Friedmann is clearly not a politician in the conventional sense. He will not lobby or pull strings to continue as justice minister. Should Tzipi Livni muster enough votes to form a coalition, she will have to decide for herself whether to keep Friedmann on (unless Labor presents him with an ultimatum - either him or them).
That decision will be based on two considerations: whether Livni personally supports or opposes Friedmann from an ideological point of view or whether she regards him as a political asset or a liability. Friedmann will, in his own quiet way, wait and see.