Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked will propose a new law that would change the way Supreme Court judges are chosen in a bid to influence the makeup of Israel’s top court, Hebrew language media reported Monday.
With four positions soon to open up on the 15-member court as justices reach the mandatory retirement age of 70, Shaked, from the right wing Jewish Home party, sees an opportunity to change the direction of the court, which the right has long complained was too liberal in its rulings.
The justice minister told the Haaretz daily that she believes the court has not achieved a proper balance of liberal and conservative justices. “Over the years the court has taken powers for itself that it should not have. The separation of powers has become blurred,” she said.
Shaked’s proposal would see judges appointed with a regular majority of votes from the 9-person Judicial Selection Committee. Currently, seven votes are required, Channel 2 reported.
The committee is made up of three Supreme Court justices, including Chief Justice Miriam Naor, two cabinet ministers, two MKs and two members of the Israel Bar Association.
Critics of the current selection process have noted that the seven-vote requirement, passed in the Knesset in 2002, effectively gives the court’s own representatives on the body a veto on who joins it.
Shaked, who chairs the committee, sees the new reform as an opportunity to circumvent the justices’ de facto veto over new appointees, with the political representatives and Bar Association members able to push through appointments even over the opposition of justices.
Israel’s highest court has 15 members, though only some of the judges are assigned to each case. The chief justice is traditionally appointed automatically according to seniority.
The court has frequently drawn the ire of right-wing and Orthodox politicians with its interventionist ethos pioneered by Aharon Barak, who served as chief justice between 1995 and 2006. In its second role as the High Court of Justice, the country’s highest court of equity to which almost anyone can appeal in real-time against the actions of any arm of the state, Israel’s top court has wielded powers considered by many scholars to be greater than in any other democracy.
That power drives the contentious battle over its composition.
Critics of the court argue that the present system for selecting justices results in a court comprised largely of like-minded figures who seek the appointment only of those who share their ideological agenda.
The court’s defenders say its powers have developed to fill the void left by a Knesset that is famously unable to settle key questions of law and society, frequently shirking its responsibility to decide on issues of religious freedoms or to act to protect civil liberties or the rights of Palestinians. In Israel’s fractious society, maintaining a strong independent judiciary, they say, serves as a counterweight against the danger that a “tyranny of the majority” in Israel’s unicameral parliament might trample the rights of those who are not fully represented or sufficiently protected by the political system.
Shaked’s bill is being jointly submitted with MK Robert Ilatov from Yisrael Beyteinu. According to Channel 2, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been informed of the move and does not object, though he has not personally expressed a view on the bill.