Knesset set to vote for 2 controversial bills

Opposition chief on expected vote on judicial selection laws: Moves are attempt by coalition to control Supreme Court.

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Knesset is expected to vote on two bills this week that would affect which judges are chosen for the Supreme Court.
The first bill, known as the “Bar Association Bill” or the “Sohlberg Bill,” is likely to be brought for its first reading in the Knesset plenum on Monday afternoon, and the “Grunis Bill” is expected to be brought to a vote this week, as well, in its second and third readings.
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Speaking to high-school students in Be’er Tuviya on Sunday, opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Kadima) said that, via these bills, “the coalition is trying to appoint its own judges. This is a political attempt to enforce their point of view.”
“Even when there is a legitimate discussion on what the Supreme Court should look like, it must be done respectfully, without harming its status,” Livni explained. “Otherwise, there will be anarchy.”
The “Bar Association Bill,” proposed by Israel Beiteinu faction chairman Robert Ilatov, coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin (Likud) and others, would regulate who represents the Bar Association in the Judicial Selection Committee, enforcing that one member of the opposition and one from the coalition are appointed. This scenario takes place most times the committee meets, however, there have been cases in which, due to political pressures or the influence of Supreme Court presidents, two members of the same side – coalition or opposition – represented the Bar Association.
If it becomes law, the measure is expected to open up the doors for Jerusalem District Court Noam Sohlberg’s appointment to the Supreme Court. Sohlberg has been criticized by the Left because he lives in the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut. Opposition MKs have accused Ilatov and Elkin of drafting a “personal bill” because they favor Sohlberg.
The bill passed its preliminary reading last Monday, despite the opposition’s attempt at a filibuster, and the same is expected to happen in its first reading, which was prepared more quickly than usual last week. Following complaints from Kadima, Labor, Meretz and Hadash MKs, Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon investigated and ultimately approved the sped-up legislative process, which is expected to continue this week.
The second judicial bill, which is expected to appear on the Knesset’s agenda this week, is the “Grunis Bill.”
The bill, which passed in its first reading last week, seeks to shorten the minimum tenure for Supreme Court presidents from three years to two years. The bill received its nickname because it would ensure that Supreme Court Justice Asher Dan Grunis, an opponent of judicial activism, would replace current Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch when she retires in February. At the time of Beinisch’s retirement, Grunis will be over the age of 67, and the mandatory retirement age for justices is 70.
Last week, however, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman said in a speech to the Knesset that he finds it “very unfortunate that MKs have called this the ‘Grunis Bill.’ This isn’t Grunis’ bill – you are mislabeling it.”
Neeman told the nearlyempty plenum that in the past, there have been “great judges” that served as Supreme Court presidents for less than two years, and that Grunis is a worthy judge that deserves the appointment under the court’s current seniority system.
The justice minister also criticized the opposition for running to the media, and not the Knesset, to discuss such an important topic, and pointed out that less than 10 MKs were present during his speech.
Opposition members have spoken out against the bill, saying that it is “personal,” and that MK Ya’acov Katz (National Union) proposed the legislation because Grunis’s judicial philosophy, which is more conservative than Beinisch’s, is favorable to the right.
Ultimately, the Knesset presidency, which is made up of Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and his deputies, sets the week’s voting agenda on Monday afternoon. It is subject to change depending on deals between factions, which then have to be approved by Rivlin, or factions’ decisions to withdraw legislation.
A third bill related to judicial selection, which would have the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee hold public hearings for potential justices, is currently frozen by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation.
Last week, Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein told Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Neeman that the bill, proposed by Elkin and MK Yariv Levin (Likud), had constitutional difficulties.
Days later, Netanyahu said he would not support the bill, because “the independence of the judiciary is above anything.”