Citing war, High Court postpones hearing on shuttered Judicial Selection Committee

Hearing on petitions against justice minister’s refusal to convene key panel tasked with appointing judges pushed to November 12, with legal aides called up for IDF reserve duty

Justice Minister Yariv Levin seen during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin seen during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on September 10, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

The High Court of Justice decided Thursday to postpone a critical hearing scheduled for Sunday on petitions against Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s refusal to convene the Judicial Selection Committee.

High Court Justice Yael Willner rescheduled the hearing for November 12, noting that legal representatives for Levin and for the government have been called up for IDF reserve duty in the current war with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

An extension was also granted for submissions to the court by all sides, and they must now be filed by November 5.

Levin has refused to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, which appoints new judges, as he seeks changes to its composition in order to grant the government near-total control of the panel, part of a wider effort to water down the independence of the judiciary, which the justice minister considers overly activist.

Planned legislation to remake the panel had been part of the government’s controversial judicial overhaul agenda, which led to unprecedented societal rifts over the past 10 months before the disagreements were set aside following Hamas’s October 7 brutal onslaught in southern Israel.

The overhaul was suspended when Benny Gantz’s National Unity party joined the coalition last week to form an emergency wartime government that has pledged not to advance any politically controversial legislation.

The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the petitioners against Levin, had opposed the postponement of the hearing, saying Levin’s refusal to convene the committee had already created a situation in which there is no permanent Supreme Court president alongside dozens of open positions on court benches around the country.

The Judicial Selection Committee during the 34th government of Israel convenes, with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked together with then-Supreme Court president Miriam Naor, then-finance minister Moshe Kahlon and other members of the Israeli Judicial Selection Committee, February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

The High Court hearing on the Judicial Selection Committee, originally scheduled for September 19, had already been postponed by a month after Levin challenged the court’s ruling ordering him to explain his decision to not assemble the panel.

Left: Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); Right: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has refused to defend the government’s position in court and said in her original submission that Levin had an obligation to convene the committee. Refusal to do so violated his obligation to exercise the authority he holds “in due time,” and constituted an illegitimate form of veto over judicial appointments, she argued.

Levin is therefore being represented by a private attorney, Ohad Shalem, who is defending the justice minister’s position that only he has the right to convene the Judicial Selection Committee and that the court has no authority to order him to do so, citing “a constitutional arrangement balancing power between the branches of government.”

He has charged that court intervention on the issue would “severely harm the principle of the separation of powers.”

The Judicial Selection Committee is currently made up of nine members: two ministers, a coalition MK, an opposition MK, two representatives of the Israel Bar Association and three justices from the Supreme Court. A candidate needs five votes to be appointed to a lower court and seven votes for an appointment to the Supreme Court.

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