Knesset committee okays bill sharply limiting judicial review; opposition: ‘Putsch’
Opposition MKs boycott the final Constitution Committee vote at Knesset in protest at conduct of panel; Yisrael Beytenu MKs denounce legislation as a ‘regime putsch’
Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter
The government-backed bill to radically restrict the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down unconstitutional legislation was approved in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Wednesday morning and will now be sent for its first reading in the Knesset plenum, amid opposition outrage directed at committee chair MK Simcha Rothman for his management of the process.
Opposition lawmakers boycotted the final votes in committee approving the bill for its first reading in the Knesset plenum, after Rothman granted only one MK from each Knesset faction the right to speak for five minutes.
“This is a dictatorship and the silencing of people’s opinions, we won’t be part of it. Vote among yourselves” shouted Hadash MK Ofer Cassif at Rothman.
“This is a regime putsch!” Yisrael Beytenu Yulia Malinovsky fumed before leaving the committee room.
Rothman was assailed throughout the hearing by opposition MKs for rushing the debate and the procedure before the vote, and he had a number of committee members from the opposition ejected from the room has a result.
A legal adviser to the committee stated that it was at the discretion of the committee chair whether or not to allow MKs the opportunity to speak during the voting session, but added that it was unusual not to do so.
Several MKs also demanded that Rothman allow a debate on which Basic Laws would be affected by the bill, which he refused, leading to further uproar.
Opposition MKs filed an objection to the bill on that basis and Rothman subsequently announced after the vote that a separate hearing and vote would be held Sunday on this issue.
The legislation passed nine to zero. An objection to the bill will also be heard in committee on Sunday.
Rothman’s bill, which is a committee-sponsored piece of legislation, would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s ability to strike down laws that contravene Israel’s Basic Laws; significantly reduce the rights that are protected by judicial review in the first place; and allow the Knesset to pass legislation that is immune to judicial review from the outset.
According to the bill, the High Court would only be able to strike down legislation if 12 out of 15 justices on the High Court ruled that it “clearly” violates an order in a Basic Law that requires a specific majority of MKs to change.
Rights specified in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, which are entrenched by a limitations clause in that law, will also be protected by judicial review.
Knesset legal adviser Gur Bligh has previously noted that the legislation would leave some fundamental rights, such as eligibility to vote, freedom of expression, and others, unprotected since they are either not explicitly listed in a Basic Law, or the relevant Basic Law does not require a specific majority to change that right.
Rothman insisted again on Wednesday that in his opinion such rights would be protected, but said the ultimate arbiter would be the High Court.
Yesh Atid MK Merav Ben Ari pointed out, however, during the committee hearing that the provision in Rothman’s bill to allow the Knesset to make any law immune to High Court review obviated any lingering protections fundamental rights might enjoy.
She added that separate legislation also being advanced by the government bars the High Court from reviewing Basic Laws, and said that controversial legislation — such as another piece of legislation being advanced now to allow Shas leader Aryeh Deri to return to ministerial office — could simply be passed as a Basic Law.
The “notwithstanding” clause in Rothman’s bill, which would allow the Knesset to make regular legislation immune to High Court review, would need to be passed in all its three readings by a majority of 61 MKs.
Such legislation would be valid until one year after the end of the Knesset which passed it into law. If a majority of 61 MKs approved it again in the following Knesset it would become a permanent law.
Clauses in Basic Law: The Knesset pertaining to the timing of elections and the necessity of having “equal” elections could not be changed through a law with a notwithstanding clause, although the clauses in that Basic Law relating to voting eligibility would not be included in that caveat.