4 Supreme Court spots may be filled next week

There are already two gaping holes that need to be filled following the retirement of justices Hanan Melcer and Menachem Mazuz this past April

High Court of Justice prepares for hearing on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form the next government, May 3, 2020 (photo credit: COURTESY HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE)
High Court of Justice prepares for hearing on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form the next government, May 3, 2020
(photo credit: COURTESY HIGH COURT OF JUSTICE)

Two already-open spots and two soon-to-be open spots on the Supreme Court may be filled by the Judicial Selection Committee on Tuesday of next week.

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

After canvassing various sources, some of the leading potential candidates are: Tel Aviv District Court Judge Khaled Kabub, Jerusalem District Court Judge Gila Canfy-Steinitz (wife of former minister and Likud MK Yuval Steinitz), Tel Aviv District Court Judge Ruth Ronen, and an as yet undecided additional conservative candidate.

With Kabub and Ronen being viewed as the liberal picks, and Canfy-Steinitz as a conservative, there is an increasing chance the remaining likely conservative pick will be a private-sector defense lawyer.

The powerful Judicial Selection Committee, chaired by Sa’ar, has been meeting since August and could replace four justices in this round and another two in a later round by October 2023.

 Gideon Sa'ar (credit:  Rami Zernger) Gideon Sa'ar (credit: Rami Zernger)

There are already two gaping holes that need to be filled following the retirement of Justices Hanan Melcer and Menachem Mazuz this past April.

These spots 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 the hope from the committee has been to appoint their replacements now along with the other two slots as part of a four-slot grand bargain between the liberal and conservative camps.

It is also possible that only the already-retired justices will be replaced now – with one liberal and one conservative – and that Hendel and Karra will be replaced closer to their retirement.

There could also be some slight additional delay from a Tuesday decision, but any such delay would likely be short, given that the seats have been vacant already for more than seven months.

By October 2023, Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Anat Baron will also have retired, but their replacements are not currently under discussion.

In late October, interviews for the list of 24 candidates started.

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

Of all the candidates, District Judge Khaled Kabub was initially viewed as having the clearest path to an appointment since traditionally there is one Israeli-Arab 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 Israeli-Arabs to date have come from a Christian background.

However, in early October Kabub’s candidacy took a hit due to a controversy surrounding whether Kabub knew some of the problematic activities of some Israeli-Arab activists he had met with who had worked with his father.

Multiple signs which The Jerusalem Post has received since then, however, signaled that his candidacy is still on track, and at most that his formal appointment could be delayed closer to when Karra steps down.

Judiciary Administrator and Judge Yigal Mersel is a top choice of Hayut, but is vehemently opposed by the more conservative members of the panel.

Ronen is also approved by some of the conservative members, but some of them see her as a “lesser evil” than Mersel, also because she is older and would serve on the court for a shorter term.

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

Sharbit and Simhoni are strongly supported by the bar association and could fulfill the idea of replacing Melcer with a private-sector lawyer like himself.

Zvi Weitzman, Ram Winograd, Ron Sokol, Tamara Bazak-Rappaport, Revital Yafa-Katz and Michal Agmon-Gonen are all serious candidates.

Former Justice Ministry director-general Sigal Yacobi, former IDF military advocate general Maj.-Gen. (res.) Sharon Afek, former Knesset legal adviser Eyal Yinon and former chief public defender Yoav Sapir are also well-known candidates, but so far, no group has rallied around any of them.

Either Yacobi or Afek, if selected, would become the first openly gay appointee to the Supreme Court.

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

Of the three non Israeli-Arab slots, at least one is expected to be a woman, and the political class have been insisting that two of the three will be conservative given Sa’ar 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, occasionally lesser-known candidates get selected as a compromise between the sides.

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.