AG: Levin’s refusal to hold vote on Supreme Court chief ‘extremely unreasonable’

In official position, Baharav-Miara says delay ‘seriously wounds’ judiciary, situation ‘unprecedented’; justice minister says court petitioners trying to override elected officials

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives at a Jerusalem Day conference at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, June 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara arrives at a Jerusalem Day conference at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem, June 5, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara on Sunday said it was “extremely unreasonable” that Justice Minister Yariv Levin has not convened a vote to choose a Supreme Court president, adding that the lack of a permanent appointment “seriously wounds” the judicial branch of government.

In her official position on the matter, Baharav-Miara wrote that Levin had a legal duty to convene the Judicial Selection Committee to vote on the appointment of the court’s head, who stands at the head of “one of the three branches that are the cornerstones of the Israeli democratic system of government.”

“The significance of harming the independence of the judiciary and weakening it — as the executive branch does not allow a vote for an extended period of time on the appointment of the head of the judiciary — is the violation of the balance between the state authorities and a clear breach of the separation of powers,” the attorney general wrote, adding that the current situation is “unprecedented” in Israel’s history.

Former court president Esther Hayut retired in October last year along with justice Anat Baron. Levin has refused to discuss candidates for the open positions or bring new appointments to a vote, and at the same time has refused to allow a new president to be selected.

Levin initially refused to convene the Judicial Selection Committee at all after entering his post, since the coalition is in the minority on the panel and due to his stated desire to change its composition through legislation to give the government control over it, before making appointments.

Earlier this month, the High Court of Justice issued an interim order against Levin ordering him to explain why he should not bring to a vote the appointment of two new Supreme Court justices and a Supreme Court president at the Judicial Selection Committee.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends a swearing-in ceremony for newly appointed judges at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, on June 23, 2024. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Levin had until Sunday to respond and a hearing has been set for July 2 on petitions requesting that the court order him to allow a vote on the open positions and convene the committee.

At a ceremony swearing in 109 judges on Sunday, Levin pointed at those present “who in the past had no chance of being elected, despite having qualifications and skills” because of their “different world views and diverse personal and professional backgrounds.”

“There are still appointments that we must complete, first of all, the appointments to the Supreme Court, I am convinced that if we show openness and willingness to compromise, as we have shown so far, we will be able to reach agreements on these matters as well,” he said.

He claimed “a stream of petitions” sought to override the decisions of elected officials and put such decisions exclusively in the hands of the judicial branch.

The position of president has been vacant since Hayut stepped down, with Justice Uzi Vogelman serving as acting president ever since, a situation unprecedented in the history of the court.

The position of president has always been selected by the principle of seniority, meaning the justice with the most years on the court has been automatically appointed to head the court, but Levin opposes this system and seeks to have a conservative appointed.

Justices hold a High Court hearing on petitions against a police regulations bill pushed for by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, on June 18, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Earlier this month, it emerged during a meeting of the Judicial Selection Committee that Levin had proposed to appoint Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron as president of the court, thought he is not the next most senior justice on the court.

Elron put himself forward for the role of president in August last year, in an unprecedented step for a Supreme Court justice to challenge the seniority tradition.

Since at least five of the six committee members on the panel, who do not represent the government or coalition, oppose abolishing the seniority system (and appointing a president requires a majority on the panel), the discussion went no further.

In February, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel petitioned the High Court to order Levin to call votes on the appointments.

The petition argues that his refusal to do so violates his constitutional obligation to fill the positions and is motivated by “inappropriate and political considerations designed to damage the independence of the judiciary and Israel’s system of checks and balances on government authority.”

The petition states Levin’s earlier legislative program to assert government control over the judiciary and asserts that he continues to cling to this agenda, making it a motivating factor in his refusal to appoint new justices to the Supreme Court.

The government and coalition have only three guaranteed votes on the Judicial Selection Committee, including Levin’s, who serves as the panel’s chair and can decide whether or not to hold votes on judicial candidates.

Appointments to the Supreme Court require seven out of nine votes on the committee. The appointment of a president likely needs just a simple majority, although it has never been defined in law since the seniority system has been used until now.

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.

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