Coalition said pushing bill that would limit powers of next Supreme Court president

With Esther Hayut set to retire, Isaac Amit up next for the role and Yosef Elron jockeying for the job, law that would make bench assignments automated said being weighed anew

President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut (center) together with Justice Uzi Vogelman (left) and Justice Isaac Amit at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, August 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut (center) together with Justice Uzi Vogelman (left) and Justice Isaac Amit at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, August 3, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ahead of Supreme Court President Esther Hayut’s retirement from the bench, the coalition is reportedly seeking to pass new legislation that would limit the powers assigned to the role.

According to a Channel 12 news report, a bill proposed by Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman would remove one of the central authorities granted to the Supreme Court president — the ability to set the composition of court benches for hearings.

Instead, Rothman’s proposal says, the makeup of the judicial lineup in each case heard by the court will be decided randomly by a computer.

The president also chooses the panel for disciplinary hearings against judges and can disqualify a judge from a panel if they think there is a conflict of interest. And the court chief also handles various issues regarding the day-to-day management of courts, including choosing which judges are appointed to various ancillary roles.

With Hayut slated to retire from the bench on October 16 — upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70 — the jockeying for the position has begun in an unprecedented manner.

Until now the role has been filled under the customary — but not legislated — seniority method. Following that method would mean that Supreme Court Justice Isaac Amit would assume the presidency next month.

Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron at a book launch event at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, on January 19, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But last week, Supreme Court Justice Yosef Elron put forward his candidacy to become court president, challenging the established tradition.

Amit is seen by most as a liberal activist justice, while Elron is viewed as a conservative member of the court.

Until now, every president of the Supreme Court has been appointed through the seniority system, and no other justices have ever even submitted their names to the Judicial Selection Committee for the position.

According to the Channel 12 report, the coalition is expecting that Amit will ultimately be chosen for the role despite Elron’s candidacy, and is therefore hoping to limit the powers that come with the job.

Among the elements of the judicial overhaul pushed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin since taking office last year is an effort to institute a new system for naming the president of the Supreme Court. In addition, Levin wants to remake the Judicial Selection Committee to give the government control over the panel that selects judges. One of the people who sits on the committee is the Supreme Court president.

Levin has so far refused to convene the panel as he seeks legislative changes to give the government greater control over judicial appointments.

He is set for an upcoming High Court of Justice hearing over this refusal and is currently sparring with Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who has opposed his legal justification for not convening the committee. On Sunday, she approved a request by Levin to use independent legal counsel, rather than the Attorney General’s Office, to represent his position at the hearing.

The attorney general and her staff serve as the official legal counsel to the government and its ministers in legal proceedings in court.

If the attorney general opposes the government’s position and refuses to defend it in court then the relevant minister can request independent counsel, but the attorney general can refuse the request.

If the committee does not convene to appoint a judge as president before Hayut bows out in October, her powers will automatically transfer to Justice Uzi Vogelman, who is the court’s vice president.

Israel’s highest court has 15 members, though only some of the judges are assigned to each case. The bench slated to hear petitions against the government’s recently passed “reasonableness” law, will unprecedentedly comprise all 15 justices.

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