Shaked and Naor agree on Israel's next chief justice – but little else

Current Chief Justice Miriam Naor and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked disagree on how the court’s top judge should be selected.

Justice Miriam Naor and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked July 9, 2017. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Justice Miriam Naor and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked July 9, 2017.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Justice Esther Hayut will likely be the next president of the Supreme Court, according to statements on Sunday by current court President Miriam Naor and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
The two rivals fought over nearly every other point relating to how the court’s top judge should be selected before the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and Hayut still has not been formally tapped.
But Shaked said that she viewed Hayut as a “fitting” candidate for chief justice, and said she “assumed she would eventually be selected” since there are no competing candidates.
With that said, the justice minister said the debate over seniority – whether the chief justice will continue to be picked exclusively based on who is the longest serving judge on the court – is crucial.
Shaked added her hope that in the next round after Hayut, seniority would be replaced by the Judicial Selection Committee simply picking who among the Supreme Court justices they believed was best.
Naor also signaled her understanding from Shaked that the debate was more about the future of selecting Supreme Court presidents, not about Hayut.
Regarding whether seniority or some other principle should guide the selection of chief justices going forward, Naor said, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it. The method has proven itself as working properly and nullifying it will harm the public’s faith.”
If politicians and the Judicial Selection Committee select the chief justice without regard to seniority, the public “may think that Supreme Court justices make decisions in order to find favor in the eyes of the committee, including politicians.”
“Politicization harms the independence of the courts,” said Naor.
Justice Salim Joubran supported Naor, stating that he travels around the world “and I am filled with pride when I hear praise for our Supreme Court – words which we do not hear about other issues,” in which the world is often critical of Israel.
Joubran said that altering seniority and attacking the Supreme Court’s independence risked harming the court’s and Israel’s image globally.
Former chief justice Aharon Barak as well as former justice ministers Tzipi Livni and Dan Meridor backed up Naor as well, saying politicians have been improperly attacking the court and that tossing seniority is just another manifestation of this improper interference.
But Shaked hit back, saying the US, England and Germany all choose chief justices without the principle of seniority.
Further, within Israel, Shaked noted that the IDF chief of staff is not chosen on the basis of seniority, but on who is the best candidate – even if that causes some friction between top officers.
Supporting Shaked, former justice minister Daniel Friedman asked why it is "politicization” to pick the "most qualified candidate” instead of relying solely on seniority.
“This would strengthen the court,” said Friedman, arguing that the “idea of presenting the court as something different” than all other government institutions in which the best candidate should get picked, “is improper.”
Surprisingly, former left-wing justice minister Yossi Beilin also supported the idea of downgrading seniority from being the decisive factor in picking a chief justice to merely one of the key factors.
While Beilin rejected attacks on the court’s independence, he said resisting these attacks should not prevent considering the method of selection from a wide vantage point.
He predicted that some of those who oppose eliminating seniority – perceiving that this was the proper left-wing thing to do in supporting the court – might someday find seniority could lead to a settler becoming chief justice. In that case, he said, they would suddenly wish they had given themselves freedom to avoid such a result and prevent damage to global respect for Israel’s court system.