If the High Court of Justice strikes down the bill to change the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee, Justice Minister Yariv Levin (Likud) does not intend to respect the ruling. The bill gives the coalition the ability to appoint two justices per term to the High Court without the opposition’s approval.
Such a ruling would be “crossing a redline, and we certainly will not accept it,” he told Channel 14 Monday night and reiterated on Tuesday.
“We legislated and implemented without fear the mandate that the public gave us... This democratic resolution will be respected, and we will have a method for appointing judges that is fair, just and includes everyone,” Levin said.
In response, opposition leader Yair Lapid said: “This is it. The masks have come down. The gun is on the table. The real prime minister, Yariv Levin, is bringing us into complete chaos and a constitutional crisis with no return. If the justice minister calls on the government not to obey the law, why should the citizens of Israel obey the government?”
According to National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, the previous justice minister, “Levin’s threat against the court crosses a redline. It is unprecedented that the justice minister says in advance that he will not respect a ruling that is not to his liking – the complete opposite of [former prime minister] Menachem Begin’s path. A government that does not respect a court ruling loses its legitimacy.”
Is there a constitutional crisis?
The Likud said Tuesday in a statement: “The absurd discussion about a constitutional crisis only emphasizes how necessary judicial reform is to return the proper balance to the government branches.
“The High Court has no authority or reason to intervene in an amendment to a Basic Law that determines how judges are appointed, exactly like it did not intervene in the past when the law was amended over a decade ago.
“The principle that the High Court has no authority to strike down a Basic Law appears in all of the compromise proposals, including the president’s, and it will be anchored in the judicial reform. Therefore, there is no reason for a constitutional crisis.”
Economy Minister Nir Barkat (Likud) on Tuesday said he supported the bill, but “I do not support in any way blindly walking into a constitutional crisis in Israel.”
If the High Court strikes down the bill, Barkat said he would respect the ruling to the letter.
“I will not lend my vote or hand to chaos in which the citizens of Israel lose faith in the government and judicial system simultaneously,” he said.
The new proposal was presented by Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionist Party) on Sunday. It was adopted by all of the coalition leaders late Sunday night and approved by the Likud and the Religious Zionist Party on Monday.
According to the proposal, the Judicial Selection Committee would include 11 members instead of the current nine, and six out of the 11 would come from coalition parties, including three ministers and three MKs.
The remaining five would be two opposition MKs and three judges, one of whom is the Supreme Court president.
For appointments to the Supreme Court, the other two justices would also be Supreme Court justices, but for lower courts, the two would be replaced by a district court president and a magistrate’s court president. Appointments for lower courts would require a majority of seven out of 11, but Supreme Court appointments would require a simple majority of six.
This would give the coalition an automatic majority, but the coalition would only be able to choose two Supreme Court justices per term without the approval of the opposition. A third appointment in a given Knesset term would require the approval of an opposition MK, and a fourth appointment would require the approval of one of the judges.
According to law, Supreme Court justices retire automatically when they turn 70. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Anat Baron are scheduled to retire in October. The coalition would thus control the appointments to both vacancies. The next vacancy would be in October 2024.
The Knesset Ethics Committee on Tuesday sanctioned Likud MK Tally Gotliv for blaming Hayut on social media in February for a terrorist attack in Jerusalem that killed three people.
Gotliv will not be able to speak during the next two Knesset plenum sessions on March 22 and 27, and she will not be allowed to speak in Knesset committees for the next three days of parliamentary activity. She also received a “severe reprimand.”
In response, Gotliv said: “Remember that I am not a marionette. I will return to work when my right and my duty to speak will be returned to me. I understand that this will lead to a delay in voting, but so be it. By the way, with the behavior of our representatives in the Ethics Committee, who needs enemies? I have noted this.”
The coalition is racing to pass a number of laws before the Knesset recesses for approximately one month beginning on April 2. The central law it is focusing on is the one amending the Judicial Selection Committee. While Gotliv is still permitted to vote, if she refuses to do so, the 64-member coalition could lose a precious vote. The coalition needs 61 votes to pass this law, as it is an amendment to a Basic Law.
Gotliv wrote on Twitter on February 12: “I blame the Supreme Court chief justice for the terrorist attack. I blame her for the feeling of chaos among the people of Israel. I blame her for the destruction and severe damage to democracy and the rule of law. She scared [people] regarding a right-wing government. Not because of the reform. So what if there will be chaos here; so what if our enemies will attack us because they will identify weakness among us. Everything is legitimate to topple a right-wing government.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior coalition members issued a short statement against the tweet, but Gotliv later repeated her claim, accusing Hayut of “scaring people because of legitimate actions of the right-wing government, using very harsh words,” as well as “sedition of half of the people against the other half.”
“By doing so, you are creating chaos among us and surely awakening the terrorists within us to bring about destruction,” she said.
Gotliv argued in her defense that the appeals to the Ethics Committee were an attempt to silence her and that her criticism was legitimate.
The Ethics Committee is made up of four MKs, two from the coalition and two from the opposition. Its discussions are not open to the public.
The committee announced a number of other decisions on Tuesday.
Hadash-Ta’al MK Ayman Odeh received a reprimand and distancing for one day from the Knesset plenum due to a physical confrontation with National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and his remarks against Arab police officers.
Likud MKs Hanoch Milwidsky and Ariel Kallner received warnings for their remarks against Hadash-Ta’al MK Ofer Cassif.