There are three vacancies waiting to be filled on the Supreme Court, but no end in sight to the deadlock between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Supreme Court President Aharon Barak over the appointment of Hebrew University Prof. Ruth Gavison.
Two of the Supreme Court seats have been left empty since the retirement earlier this year of Eliezer Mazza and Jacob Turkel. The third has been empty since Acting Justice Yonatan Adiel returned to the Jerusalem District Court after a year-long trial period.
Livni is insisting that all three appointments be filled simultaneously to make certain that the Judges Selection Committee makes a balanced appointment. One of those appointments, she said, must be Gavison.
Gavison's appointment is undesirable to Barak because of her outspoken criticism over the past few years of the judicial system that he has introduced into the High Court. She has taken issue with his assertion that the law applies to all matters and that, therefore, all matters can be addressed by the court.
She believes the court should not address various matters such as Knesset decisions and legislation. Gavison has also criticized Barak for opening the High Court of Justice to "public petitioners" who are not directly affected by the government policy they petition against.
Because of the strength of her personality, Barak fears that Gavison will dominate the court after he retires next year and undo all the changes he has accomplished during his years as head of the judicial pyramid.
Livni, for her part, believes that one of the most crucial tasks for the Minister of Justice is to help mold the Supreme Court. She is not ready to leave that job to Barak, who has generally dominated the appointments to the court during his tenure.
Barak has had clashes with justice ministers in the past. He had to compromise with Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, who insisted on the appointment of a religious conservative, Edmond Levy, to the court as a balance to Barak's liberal and secular appointee, Ayala Procaccia.
In the current dispute, however, it appears that there is no basis for compromise. It is possible that Livni will be able to force her will on Barak, if she manages to obtain a majority in the Judges Selection Committee. However, she faces an uphill battle since three of the nine committee members are Supreme Court justices who unanimously back Barak's position.
At this point, Livni has no plans to convene the committee. In the short run, however, time is working against her. The court is already short three justices and Deputy Supreme Court President Mishael Cheshin is due to retire early next year. Meanwhile, the court's burden is increasing from year to year. Currently, it deals with some 12,000 cases annually.