The Judicial Selection Committee convened for the first time since April 2022 on Thursday and set out a timetable for future hearings to fill dozens of open positions on courts around the country, including the Supreme Court.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, who chairs the committee, had refused to convene the panel since taking office in January due to his desire to change its composition in order to give the government control over appointments.
But petitions to the High Court of Justice against his stance and the fact that so many positions on courts around the country are empty seemingly forced his hand to convene the panel.
The Times of Israel has learned that the majority of the meeting was taken up by a dispute between the committee members over filling the open spot on the Supreme Court recently vacated by former chief justice Esther Hayut.
Levin and Minister of Settlements and National Missions Orit Struck argued that it was inappropriate to deal with what they said was the sensitive and divisive issue of appointing a Supreme Court justice due to the ongoing war.
Levin is also reportedly opposed to appointing a new Supreme Court president.
Nevertheless, it was agreed that a preliminary meeting of the committee will be held within the next three weeks to deliberate again on the possibility of filling the empty seat on the Supreme Court, and appointing a new president.
The committee also established two subcommittees to begin reviewing candidates for the dozens of empty judgeships, and agreed to reconvene on February 20, February 25 and April 17 to advance the selection process and potentially make appointments.
Levin is apparently willing to make lower court appointments.
According to the Israel Courts Administration, there were 20 unfilled judgeships in September, but that figure is set to rise to 53 open positions by the end of the year due to retiring judges and 10 new positions created under the 2023 budget.
Hayut retired on October 16, but Levin has been reluctant to schedule a vote for a successor since the coalition has only three guaranteed votes on the nine-member committee and he would therefore be unable to control the outcome of such a vote.
“Israeli judges are collapsing under the case load, and this is increasing the time it takes to conduct court hearings,” committee member MK Karin Elharar of the opposition Yesh Atid party said prior to the hearing.
“After a delay of 10 months, we cannot wait any longer, the dozens of empty positions on the court benches must be filled… I am hopeful that the justice minister will rise to the urgency of the hour and act in cooperation with all the committee members in order to appoint professional and independent judges for all of Israel’s citizens,” added Elharar.
The committee is composed of nine members, including Levinm Struck, MK Yitzhak Kroizer, Elharar, Acting Supreme Court President Uzi Vogelman, Supreme Court Justices Isaac Amit and Daphne Barak-Erez, and Israel Bar Association representatives Muhamad Naamneh and Ilana Saker.
Appointments to the lower courts require five votes while Supreme Court appointments need seven.