Chair of Knesset law panel said to draw up own version of judicial overhaul plans

Report says proposals being formulated by Simcha Rothman are expected to come before Knesset for vote instead of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s, in effort to speed up passage

Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman (L) Committee and Justice Minister Yariv Levin attend a meeting of the panel on January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman (L) Committee and Justice Minister Yariv Levin attend a meeting of the panel on January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The head of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee is reportedly putting together his own version of Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s far-reaching judicial overhaul plans in an effort to ensure their swift passage into law.

According to a Tuesday Channel 12 report, the proposals being drawn up by MK Simcha Rothman of the far-right Religious Zionism party will eventually be presented to lawmakers for a vote, not those that Levin has drafted. The network did not attribute the information to a source.

Levin, the No. 2 in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, earlier this month revealed a planned shakeup of Israel’s judicial system that would significantly curb the High Court’s judicial review powers, allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws that are struck down, eliminate the court’s ability to evaluate the “reasonableness” of government decisions, and give politicians full control over the selection of judges.

The ruling right-religious coalition is also advancing a bill to reduce the authority of ministry legal advisers.

The television report said Rothman wants to put forward his own bill for two key reasons, the first being “to bypass” Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s request for two months to formulate a legal opinion on Levin’s proposals, which could delay the votes until the Knesset’s summer session.

Rothman was said to instead want an expedited legislative process of a month and a half. To achieve this, Rothman would apparently introduce the judicial changes in a private member’s bill, which unlike a government-backed measure would not be first reviewed by the attorney general.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at her inauguration ceremony in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Channel 12 also said Rothman was working on his own proposals in order to introduce minor changes to Levin’s framework, though the two are expected to be mostly identical.

According to the report, Rothman will adopt a softer stance against the “reasonableness” standard that would prevent judges from using it to invalidate decisions made by the prime minister or other elected representatives, rather than junking it altogether.

He is also likely to float a different makeup for the Judicial Appointments Committee, though a majority of spots on the panel would still go to coalition politicians.

Rothman will also reportedly back even tighter curbs on the ability of the High Court of Justice to overturn laws and government decisions. Unlike Levin, who has proposed requiring a majority of at least 12 out of 15 High Court justices to strike down laws, the report said Rothman’s bill will require unanimous consent among the judges.

Levin has additionally introduced an “override clause” that would allow 61 of the Knesset’s 120 members to reverse High Court rulings.

Rothman, Levin and Netanyahu have backed the reforms as necessary to rebalance power between an activist judiciary and the people’s elected representatives. Baharav-Miara, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, and political opposition leaders have attacked the reforms as destructive to democracy and dangerous to civil liberties.

On Saturday evening, an estimated 100,000 Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa to protest the government’s judicial reform plan. A counter-protest in support of the plan is being planned for later this week.

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