Nobel laureate applies game theory to judge selection

At the end of a bizarre meeting, the Knesset Law Committee approved on Tuesday the first reading of a bill calling for a majority vote of seven of the nine-member Judges' Election Committee to elect judges. Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson invited Nobel Prize laureate Yisrael Aumann, an expert in game theory, to explain the consequences that the bill, initiated by Likud MK Gideon Sa'ar, would have on the process of choosing judges. Currently, judges are appointed according to a simple majority of five committee members. During the meeting Aumann had much less to say about game theory than he did about what was wrong with the Supreme Court and the committee that chooses it. "I am amazed at your tone of disregard for politics," he told the MKs. "There is no democracy without politics, and I don't see anything terrible in that." He added that he was "shocked" to hear that Ben-Sasson had asked Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch for her opinion of the bill. "This contradicts the separation of the branches of government," he said in his introductory remarks. He also blamed the Supreme Court for its efforts to curb its power. "The court brought the politicization upon itself because it deals with matters pertaining to social values, politics and security," he charged. There should also be no judges or lawyers on the committee that choose the justices of the Supreme Court in the first place, he added later, since the court deals with these three areas. Turning momentarily to the subject of his expertise, Aumann told the committee that if three out of nine committee members always voted as a bloc, while the other six voted individually, their "power index" increased from one third to 43 percent. He did not explain why, saying the matter was too complicated. Aumann added that it would make no difference as far as the power index was concerned whether the required majority were increased to seven, or even six, MKs as the Ministerial Legislation Committee had suggested. Sa'ar argued that the requirement of a seven-person majority would force committee members with different opinions to talk with each other and come to agreements. It would also, he said, guarantee a more pluralistic court because the factions within the committee would have to compromise and accept candidates they opposed in order to get their own candidates elected. MK Ophir Pines-Paz (Labor) warned that the requirement of a seven-person majority would either lead to appointing mediocre candidates who would not be too offensive for either side, or it would cause deadlocks and a failure to appoint judges at all. The bill now goes to the plenum for a first reading. It passed a preliminary reading by 35 votes to one.