Analysis: A (very limited) victory for the justice minister

Appointment of one private lawyer to the Supreme Court is no harbinger of a legal revolution.

friedmann mazuz 298.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
friedmann mazuz 298.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
On the face of it, the appointment Sunday of Attorney Hanan Meltzer to the Supreme Court is a landmark achievement for Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann. Enabling Meltzer to make it to the highest court straight from a career in the private sector would seem to be quite a precedent and a major blow to the legal establishment's efforts to defend its last bastion, appointments to the bench, from outside influence. An additional blow to Friedmann's arch-rival, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, is the fact that none of her preferred candidates, all District Court justices, were promoted to the nation's top court. There were five potential court spots to fill, but only Friedmann's personal friend Meltzer got a job. But the fact that only one justice was appointed can also be seen as a setback for Friedmann. In the long term, he actually lost more points than Beinisch. She might not have managed to bring any new allies into the court this time, but she is assured of another five years until she retires in which she will have ample opportunity to lobby for her candidates. As a non-political and controversial minister in a government with an uncertain future, Friedmann is unlikely to last even half as long as Beinisch, and probably much less than that. Meanwhile, the justices believe that if they're patient enough, the Friedmann storm will blow over, and the comfortable arrangement whereby they agreed among themselves on their preferred candidates, and a tame justice minister went along, will be resumed. Beinisch might complain about the backlog and heavy workload in the court, because new justices have not been appointed for three years, but she prefers the current situation to the appointment of candidates she feels would ruin the cozy atmosphere. Sunday's election committee deliberations prove that both sides of the great legal divide are too weak to impose their agenda. Beinisch will never enjoy anything close to the admiration, even adulation, of her predecessor Aharon Barak. Now she has lost the de facto majority traditionally commanded in the committee by the chief justice. But neither has Friedmann, despite the complete backing he receives from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, managed to significantly advance his radical policies to dismantle the Supreme Court monopoly on justice appointments. His lack of success can be attributed to his political inexperience and a vigorous counter-attack being waged by his opponents. Friedmann can allow himself a brief smile of satisfaction upon Meltzer's historic appointment. But not much more. Meltzer will have little impact on the way the court conducts business. Not only is he a lone outsider, he also isn't the kind of attorney to make too many waves. He is a respected lawyer, and no one had anything bad to say about him, but he isn't seen as a legal giant. Besides, he also belongs to the old school; among other establishment posts, he was legal counsel for the Labor Party. He will easily assimilate into the court's culture. In one Tel Aviv law firm that had a senior partner in the running, all the attorneys knew on Sunday morning exactly what the result was going to be. "In the end," said one of the firm's lawyers, "it's all a question of how good your contacts are, not who the better candidate is. Meltzer is going to win, because Friedmann wants him and he has other friends on the committee, including some of the justices." In many ways, the list of 12 candidates proved how little has changed in the legal system. It might have seemed unorthodox in light of the presence of five private sector lawyers, but it was still more of the same: a dozen candidates from the upper and middle classes, Ashkenazi professionals. There were no firebrands from academia or outsiders from less privileged backgrounds to shake up the complacency. The Friedmann revolution is still a long way off.