Says court will be indebted to lawmakers and their funders

After US rulings, Israeli ex-chief justice warns against politicizing judicial picks

Dorit Beinisch says Israel should be wary of judges being indebted to lawmakers; says shouldn’t copy American legal system ‘built on other social problems and other balances’

File: Dorit Beinish speaks in Jaffa, on November 9, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
File: Dorit Beinish speaks in Jaffa, on November 9, 2021 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Former Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch on Thursday warned against the politicization of selecting judges in Israel.

Beinisch made the comments amid the recent fallout of former US president Donald Trump’s nomination of three conservative justices, or one-third of the Supreme Court, all of whom sided with the majority in striking down the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling giving women the legal right to abortion.

Since then, the US court has also issued rulings on the right to carry firearms and prayer.

“In a democracy, political appointments are a danger,” Beinisch was quoted by the Ynet news site as saying during a conference at Herzliya’s Reichman University.

“We know that the court will be indebted not only to the politicians who appointed [the judges], but politicians also depend on their funders and supporters, and this can harm the justice system,” she said.

“This is a very serious matter. The role of the court… since the establishment of the state has held a very important role. Suddenly we hear phrases like ‘conservative or activist court.’ But is this relevant to our reality, or is it borrowed from the US?” she said.

Abortion-rights activists demonstrate against the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, the case that established a constitutional right to abortion, on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 30, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

“That is a different country, it has a very old constitution and a commitment to a constitution. It has a Congress, it has a Senate, and a whole system of balances,” Beinisch said.

“We shouldn’t look to other systems that are built on other social problems and other balances,” she continued. “We have a lot to develop and do in our system, as there has been and still are political and other attempts to reduce the power of the court, to reduce its powers.”

“Not everything is perfect. It is possible to be wrong — it is correct and human — but independence and professionalism are what should lead,” Beinisch said.

Right-wing politicians have long attacked the Israeli Supreme Court over its composition and its rulings, accusing it of being too liberal, and have called for drastically limiting its powers of judicial oversight.

In addition, opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly attacked the justice system during his ongoing corruption trial.

Last month, lawmakers from the Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism parties submitted a bill under which Supreme Court judges, including its president and vice president, will be appointed by the government, with final approval given by a vote in the Knesset plenum.

Under the current system, justices are picked through the Judicial Selection Committee, composed of ministers, lawmakers and judges.

Right-wing lawmakers claim the top court has repeatedly overstepped its authority in rulings they deem “leftist” and “anti-democratic.”

Illustrative: Supreme court justices arrive for a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on February 24, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following a High Court ruling last year that labeled Knesset legislation that allowed then-prime minister Netanyahu to continue funding state agencies without passing a state budget a “misuse of the Knesset’s authority,” right-wing lawmakers accused the court of attempting to “carry out a coup.”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has advocated for further reforms within the justice system, including televised public hearings for Supreme Court candidates and splitting the role of the attorney general into two positions.

While serving as justice minister, now-Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked attempted to lead reforms aimed at limiting the powers of the High Court.

According to a Friday report, Shaked could move back to the Justice Ministry as part of a short-term cabinet reshuffle ahead of the November 1 elections.

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