Justice Esther Hayut, unanimously selected to replace Miriam Naor as Supreme Court president in October, will be the third female chief justice of the last four.Though few people outside the judiciary may be familiar with Hayut, she could establish a much greater legacy than some predecessors. At 64, her relatively young age means she will run the court for the next six years – longer than both recent chief justices Asher Grunis and Naor combined.Until now, Hayut was known as more of a consensus builder than well-known justices like Salim Joubran, Elyakim Rubinstein and some others known for dramatic judicial opinions and their readiness to stand out by writing fierce dissents.In that respect, the rule that the Supreme Court president is decided by seniority played a decisive role in paving the road toward her elevation. However, there was already a clear shift in the first case she presided over after the formal announcement that she would be the next chief.After years as a mostly quiet back-bencher, Hayut emerged in a more aggressive role, using biting sarcasm and cutting off lawyers left and right.
Rejecting the petition of an NGO for the court’s intervention in making Israel’s nuclear program more transparent, she would not even let Avner Cohen, a noted critic of Israel’s nuclear program who flew specially from California to Israel for the hearing, to say a few words. Lawyers should take this as an indication that they may need to shorten their arguments under her new reign. Hayut is respected by both sides of the debate over judicial interpretation, which likely reflects her mostly centrist positions, though she is more identified with the moderately activist camp.Far more like justices Naor and Grunis than former activist chief justices Aharon Barak or Dorit Beinisch, she is frequently in the majority when the court splits but still upholds the law.In one case, the March 2016 3-2 decision over whether to strike Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s natural gas deal over the massive Leviathan gas field off Israel’s coast, she even voted in the minority against it when Rubinstein, often viewed as more conservative, was in the majority. Where Justice Menachem Mazuz has dissented from rulings enabling the demolitions of terrorists’ family homes, she has at most expressed some mixed feelings, but said she would support the demolitions. However, on issues of religion and state, minority rights, or challenges to the Supreme Court, such as the Settlements Regulation Law, she is likely to remain in the moderate liberal camp of Naor.
Before 1990, Hayut spent over a decade in the private sector before climbing up the judicial ladder post-by-post from 1990 to 2004 until reaching the Supreme Court.