Judicial overhaul bill likely to come up for first plenum vote next Monday

Justice minister, committee head imply openness to compromise on some reforms, but only after first reading of bill to let gov’t choose judges, make Basic Laws immune from court

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

National Unity MK Michal Shir protests legislation on overhauling the judiciary during a hearing of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Unity MK Michal Shir protests legislation on overhauling the judiciary during a hearing of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The first part of the coalition’s highly controversial judicial overhaul package, which would give the government control over the selection of judges, will be brought for a first reading in the Knesset plenum either this Wednesday or, more likely, next Monday.

The bill, a committee-sponsored amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary that would give the government an automatic majority on the Judicial Selection Committee and render quasi-constitutional Basic Laws immune from judicial oversight, was approved for sending to the plenum in a tempestuous hearing Monday of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s office said there was no intention of delaying the vote for the first reading despite President Isaac Herzog’s call for a halt in legislative proceedings in order to deliberate the compromise proposals he presented Sunday night.

After a committee-sponsored bill is approved, a 48-hour period must pass before it can be brought to a vote in the plenum, unless an exception is requested from the Knesset House Committee, which was not done in the case of the judicial selection committee bill.

Once approved in a first reading, the legislation, which also prohibits the High Court of Justice from exercising judicial review over Basic Laws, will return to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to be readied for its second and third readings in the plenum, which would formally pass the bill into law.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, who heads the law committee, and Levin indicated after Herzog’s speech that they may be open to dialogue and even some compromise but would not delay the legislation for that purpose.

Chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee MK Simcha Rothman arguing during a committee hearing, February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky said, however, that passing the legislation in a first reading amounted to an open threat to the opposition, and that compromise negotiations under such circumstances were impossible.

“They have put a loaded gun, no, a loaded Uzi, on the table. Can you negotiate in such a situation?” she told The Times of Israel.

File: Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovsky chairs a meeting of the Knesset’s Jewish Religious Services Committee on October 27, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The MK also noted that after Monday’s committee votes, Rothman continued hearings on legislation dealing with other aspects of the government’s overhaul of the judiciary, specifically the override clause allowing the Knesset to make any piece of legislation effectively immune from judicial review by the High Court of Justice.

Malinovsky insisted that until the coalition halted the legislative process, there could be no negotiations on any compromise solution.

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