In a victory for Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, her first choice, Alex Stein, was one of two judges elected to the Supreme Court on Thursday evening, as Shaked continues her efforts to change the makeup of the country’s top court — long considered a liberal bastion.
Also chosen by the Judicial Selection Committee was Ofer Groskopf. The two will replace justices Yoram Danziger and Uri Shoham, who will soon step down.
“One year ago I decided to change the face of the Supreme Court with the appointment of four justices. Today that ends with the appointment of another two,” Shaked said.
“They are part of a process of returning the court to its basic function: interpreting the norms that parliament decides, not replacing it,” she said.
In recent years, right-wing lawmakers have accused the Supreme Court of interventionist judicial activism as pioneered by Aharon Barak, president of the Court from 1995 to 2006, after it torpedoed a series of Knesset laws it deemed unlawful.
“Stein and Groskopf are legal luminaries and none dispute their worth. I thank Chief Justice Hayut and the members of the committee for their work,” she said.
Earlier in the month it had been reported that Shaked was threatening to block all the judicial nominations unless Stein was chosen. Supreme Court President Esther Hayut was said to have opposed Stein’s nomination.
The selection committee has nine members and at least seven must agree on each Supreme Court appointment.
Shaked is chairperson of the committee, which includes another cabinet member, two MKs — usually one from the government and one from the opposition — two members of the Israel Bar Association, two judges, and Hayut, from the Supreme Court itself.
With her fellow cabinet member and a government-aligned lawmaker, Shaked has a three-vote bloc in the committee.
Shaked, of the right-wing Jewish Home party, has frequently spoken out in favor of reining in the High Court or changing the makeup of the justices to incorporate more conservative views.
Stein, 61, is considered one of the leading academics in fields such as criminal law and medical malpractice. He has taught at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, at Yeshiva University in New York, and most recently at Brooklyn Law school.
His colleague Dudi Schwartz told Ynet that Stein, a chess champion in the former Soviet Union prior to emigrating to Israel, would bring to the bench his “chess-like approach” to law.
Groskopf also has an academic background and only joined the Central District Court in 2009, where he has been serving since.
The 48-year-old is seen as a social-minded judge, and specializes in civil law.
However, he courted controversy in a September 2017 decision at the Central District Court, when he green-lighted the policy at a country club in Kochav Yair that refused to grant membership to residents of the Arab-Israeli town of Tira.
The election of the pair followed the nomination by the Judicial Selection Committee of 27 other judges for positions on magistrate, district, and labor courts.
Among them was Havi Toker, Israel’s first female ultra-orthodox judge, who will serve in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court.
Toker, 41, was born in England and grew up in Bnei Brak as the eldest of 12 brothers and sisters in a well-known ultra-Orthodox family.
She began her legal career in 2003 and has since spent time clerking in the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court, before working as an attorney in the police investigators unit followed by the Jerusalem District Attorney’s Office.
In February 2017, right-wing lawmakers secured three conservative and non-activist judges out of four new appointments to Israel’s Supreme Court, putting a large dent in what is seen as a liberal-dominated bench.
Three of the four were on Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s list of preferred candidates, while the three judges on the nine-member judicial appointments panel, who voted as a bloc, failed to advance any of their nominees.
Earlier this week, Tel Aviv District Court judge Khaled Kabub announced that he was withdrawing his candidacy to be appointed to the Supreme Court, in a rather surprise move.
Kabub, who would have been the first Muslim on the Supreme Court, had been proposed as a candidate by Attorney Effi Naveh, chairman of the Israel Bar Association, and was also included in the list of candidates of Hayut.
Nevertheless, he reportedly told relatives that he asked not to be considered for the position because he realized that he had no realistic chance of being appointed.