Judicial selection reform postponed

A-G Weinstein tells PM, justice minister proposed law raises constitutional difficulties, concerns about politicization of judiciary.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the Knesset 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided on Sunday to postpone its vote on a controversial judicial selection reform bill, proposed by coalition Chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and MK Yariv Levin (Likud).
The decision to postpone the vote on the bill came after Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein expressed his opposition to it on Sunday morning, telling Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman that the proposed law raises constitutional difficulties and concerns about the politicization of the judiciary.
The proposed bill, if passed into law, would require candidates for the Supreme Court Judiciary to be appointed only after a public hearing before the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, which would be able to veto the potential judge.
Currently, Supreme Court justices are elected by a ninemember committee, as stipulated in Basic Law on The Judiciary (1984), which emphasizes the substantive and personal independence of judges.
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On the committee are the justice minister (the chairman); a second cabinet minister (currently Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan); two Knesset members, currently Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu) from the coalition, and MK Uri Ariel (National Union) from the opposition; two members of the Israel Bar Association (Rachel Ben-Ari and Pinhas Marinsky), Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch; and two other Supreme Court justices (currently Edmond Levi and Asher Dan Grunis).
A candidate requires a majority vote of seven out of the nine committee members to be elected a Supreme Court justice.
The committee, the majority of whose members are lawyers, is designed to enforce a high professional standard of appointees, while ensuring that both the coalition and opposition have a say in the selections. However, some politicians – particularly on the Right – have argued that professional considerations are given too great a weight in selecting justices because the Supreme Court in its role as the High Court of Justice rules on petitions opposing Knesset laws and government decisions.
The bill is part of a series of laws proposed by Likud and Israel Beiteinu MKs meant to reform the judicial selection process. The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved one such bill, which regulates the selection of Bar Association members of the Judicial Selection Committee and it is expected to be put to a preliminary vote in the Knesset on Monday.
Those opposed to the bill say it will erode the independence of the judiciary and politicize the Supreme Court.
“This dangerous proposal threatens the delicate balance of judicial supremacy,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in Sunday’s cabinet meeting. “It endangers the independence of Supreme Court justices, and therefore it cannot pass in a democratic state such as ours.”
Before the vote was postponed, ministers from Barak’s Independence Party announced they would oppose the bill.
Kadima changed the topic of its weekly non-confidence motion to “The Netanyahu government’s attempts to politicize the judiciary and the media in Israel,” following the Ministerial Committee on Legislation’s decision.
“The Likud is threatening to harm one of the foundations of democracy in the State of Israel, which is based on separation between branches of government,” a party spokesman said on Sunday.
Lawyer Dan Yakir, legal adviser to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel slammed the bill as heralding the “end of democracy” and the “tyranny of the majority” in Israel.
“The bill will severely harm the principle of separation of powers fundamental to a democratic state, according to which the courts must be independent from the political majority, because of their role in protecting the human rights of individuals, minorities and politically weak groups against decisions made by Knesset and the government,” said Yakir. “If the court turns into a reflection of the Knesset then it has no function, it is the end of democracy, and will result in the tyranny of the majority.”
Yakir also said diversity in the Supreme Court Judiciary is also very important, and Mizrahi Jews, Arabs and women are currently underrepresented.
“However, we must not confuse the issue of representation with the erosion of democracy and the separation of powers,” he added.
Meanwhile, the Movement for Quality Government (MQG) announced Sunday it would petition the High Court of Justice against the bill, should the Ministerial Committee approve it.
“The proposed law will mean the politicization of the judicial system. It will violate the delicate balance between the various authorities and substantially damage the duty to keep the Supreme Court and its judges apolitical,” said MQG in a statement. “The bill is dangerous for Israeli democracy. [The judiciary] is a professional body whose power and authority is limited, and whose role is to protect the minority and criticize government operations.”
However, the bill has received support from rightwing legal advocacy group the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, which says it is tasked with protecting human rights and ensuring sound government.
Legal Forum lawyer Yossi Fuchs said the bill was “not politicization, but professionalization of a political system that does not fully reflect the composition of the Israeli public.”