List of candidates to fill 4 High Court spots unveiled

Judiciary may finally shift rightward, as by October 2023, more than one-third of the 15 justices on the Supreme Court will have been changed.

The High Court justices are seen at the retiring of Menachem Mazuz. (photo credit: JUDICIARY SPOKESPERSON)
The High Court justices are seen at the retiring of Menachem Mazuz.

The list of 24 candidates for filling the Supreme Court’s two already open spots and two soon-to-be open spots was published on Thursday.

The powerful Judicial Selection Committee, chaired by Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope), has been meeting since August and will replace four justices in this round and another two in a later round by October 2023.

By October 2023, more than one-third of the 15 justices on the Supreme Court will have been changed over, potentially altering the course of the court toward a more conservative direction given that Sa’ar generally prefers conservative justices over liberal ones.

There are already two gaping holes that need to be filled following the retirement of justices Hanan Melcer and Menachem Mazuz this past April, but who could not be replaced amid the freezing of all appointments under the prior government of the Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

In April 2022, Neal Hendel and George Karra retire, and by October 2023, Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Anat Baron will also have retired.

A screen capture of the live stream feed from a hearing at the High Court of Justice (credit: screenshot)A screen capture of the live stream feed from a hearing at the High Court of Justice (credit: screenshot)

Besides Sa’ar, the committee also includes Hayut, Justice Yitzhak Amit, Justice Uzi Vogelman, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked (Yamina), Labor MK Efrat Rayten, Religious Zionist Party MK Simcha Rothman and Israel Bar Association representatives Muhammad Naamana and Ilana Sakar.

Of all of the candidates, District Judge Khaled Kabub has the clearest path to an appointment since traditionally there is one Arab-Israeli on the court, and Kabub is viewed as the top candidate to replace Karra.

If selected, he would become the first Muslim ever on the court, given that all Arab-Israelis to date have come from a Christian background.

Other top candidates could include district judges Ram Vinograd, Ruth Ronen, Yigal Marzel, Gila Kanfu-Steinetz (wife of former minister and Likud MK Yuval Steinitz), Ron Sokol, Tamara Bazak-Rappaport, Revital Yafa-Katz and Michal Agmon-Gonen.

Former Justice Ministry director-general Sigal Yacobi, former IDF military advocate-general (MAG) Maj.-Gen. (res.) Sharon Afek, former Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon, former chief public defender Yoav Sapir are also well-known candidates.

Either Yacobi or Afek, if selected, would become the first out-of-the-closet homosexual appointee to the Supreme Court.

Afek may also be considered to replace Avichai Mandelblit as attorney-general on February 1.

Though Meir Shamgar is an example of a former MAG who eventually became a Supreme Court justice, Mandelblit and former MAG Menachem Finklestein both initially sought district judgeships before seeking higher judicial office.

Mandelblit probably was unable to seek a seat on the High Court given that he is due to serve as attorney-general for the next four months, but he may be eligible to fill the vacancies that will emerge in 2023.

Yinon is due to be called as one of many witnesses in Netanyahu’s trial.

Some other candidates who have been hyped in the media include Kobi Sharbit, Nati Simhoni, Prof. Shahar Lifshitz and former chief government bankruptcy officer David Hahn.

Of the three non-Arab-Israeli slots, at least one is expected to be a woman, and the political class has been insisting that two of the three will be conservative given Sa’ar’s and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s leanings.

In the horse-trading between the generally more liberal three Supreme Court justices bloc, sometimes supported by the two Israel Bar Association representatives, and the current more conservative political class on the committee, sometimes less-known candidates get selected as a compromise between the sides.

The coalition’s center-left majority has been relatively silent on how hard it would fight for a two-to-two split or three-to-one split in favor of more liberal justices.

Though conventionally the Supreme Court is categorized as liberal, Shaked already shifted it to almost a conservative majority during her 2015-2019 era as justice minister.

Given that three of the four retiring justices in this round are liberals, Sa’ar and Shaked could finally gain a majority on the court and even cement the majority by 2023 when two more moderate-liberals retire.

A spokesman for Yair Lapid, who heads Yesh Atid and generally the coalition’s center-left parties, had not replied regarding the issue by press time.

But Rayten said as the Labor Party’s representative on the committee, she would “act to promote women and stellar legal officials with experience, commitment to the public good and sensitivity to social issues.”

Rayten said she and Labor would press for independent and impartial judges with a strong backbone as well as individuals who would put Israel in a positive light internationally.

The candidates are supposed to be narrowed down to six or seven during October, with interviews set for October 24 and the committee expected to decide around November 23.