Mazuz nixes January meeting of judges' selection committee

Says appointments should take place after March 28 elections.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni cannot convene the Judges' Selection Committee on January 24 because the general elections are due to be held soon afterward, Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz ruled Monday. His opinion came in response to Livni's request. She told him she had to know immediately because she was planning to publish the names of the candidates for the court appointments on Tuesday so she could convene the meeting three weeks later. According to law, Livni must publish the names of the candidates three weeks before she can convene the committee. The advance notice is meant to give the public time to provide additional information about the candidates or to persuade the committee to oppose one nominee or another. To hold the meeting on January 24, as she had repeatedly declared, she would have to publish the names no later than Tuesday. For the past few months, Livni has declared that she wanted to summon the committee to make new appointments to the bench, including as many as three new appointments to the Supreme Court. She was still on record as wanting to do so even after the Knesset, the government and President Moshe Katsav agreed that new elections would be held on March 28. Supreme Court President Aharon Barak is strongly opposed to appointing judges so close to the elections. In a recent Haaretz story, he was quoted as saying that the convening of the Judges' Selection Committee was illegal. He also reportedly referred to a High Court ruling five years ago in a petition protesting the fact that the transitional government of Ehud Barak was conducting negotiations with the Palestinians in the weeks before the 2001 by-election for prime minister. The ruling also addressed the issue of appointments during the election campaign. "It is proper to leave the work of [new] appointments to the elected prime minister and his government unless there is a 'vital need' to fill the post," the court ruled. Barak said there was no "vital need" to appoint new judges at this time. In her query to Mazuz, Livni referred to a High Court decision handed down a few days ago in connection with the appointment of a new religious council for Kiryat Ono. The court established stringent conditions for making new appointments during the election period. She also pointed out that should the Likud leave the government as expected in the coming days, Health Minister Danny Naveh, the other cabinet representative on the committee, would be ineligible to participate. For many months, Livni refused to convene the committee because of a dispute with Barak over the appointment of Ruth Gavison to the Supreme Court. Barak objected to Gavison's appointment because of her views, which are diametrically opposed to his, on how "active" the High Court should be in overruling decisions and laws passed by the Knesset and how liberal it should be in granting standing to would-be petitioners. Livni lacked a committee majority to elect Gavison. Barak had the backing of the three Supreme Court justices (including himself), Labor MK Avraham Shochat and the two Bar Association representatives. She waited until the Bar held new elections for its representatives in the hope that the new ones would support her. However, one of the outgoing representatives, Yori Guy-Ron, was reelected, so that the majority against Gavison remained intact. Thus, in a reversal of positions, Livni found herself committed to holding the meeting even though she knew she would lose in the showdown over Gavison, while Barak strongly opposed it, even though he knew he would win. As a result of Mazuz's decision, the dispute over Gavison's appointment will be postponed for at least several months.