Justice Minister Yariv Levin told the High Court of Justice on Sunday that he would convene the Judicial Selection Committee, after months of refusing to do so as part of the government’s judicial overhaul agenda.
Attorneys representing Levin in legal proceedings against him in the High Court said in a court filing that the minister will convene the committee within 15 days “to avoid conflict” during a time of war, and will propose new judges about whom there is “broad consensus.”
Levin had been refusing to convene the committee due to his stated desire to change the composition of the panel to give the government control over appointments.
This stance prompted petitions to the High Court requesting that Levin be ordered to convene the committee, and a hearing on the petitions is scheduled for November 12. Sunday was the deadline for filing responses to those petitions.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, one of the petitioners against Levin in the High Court, expressed skepticism of Levin’s announcement, saying it could be a tactic to delay the hearing, while Labor MK Gilad Kariv said Levin “is not committing to appoint judges” and his statement was framed in a way that could enable the minister to avoid making appointments.
The Movement for Quality Government and the Yesh Atid party had argued in their petitions that Levin “lacks the authority” to refuse to convene the committee, and that the justice minister’s behavior amounts to an illegitimate abuse of authority that would give him a de facto veto over all judicial appointments.
“The justice minister is of the opinion that during a time of war there is no place to deal with matters of dispute, including the issue of appointing judges,” Levin’s private counsel wrote to the court, in reference to the upcoming hearing.
“In order to avoid dispute, the minister will convene the Judicial Selection Committee within 15 days, and commits at this time to bringing before the committee decisions over which there is broad consensus,” the brief statement concluded.
A spokesperson for Levin said that this meant he would aim for judicial appointments that could be made with a broad consensus on the committee.
The announcement comes days after Levin and Supreme Court Acting President Uzi Vogelman agreed to appoint 14 temporary judges to several courts due to a shortage on the benches.
There are currently over 20 unfilled positions on courts around the country, which will rise to 53 by the end of the year. The Supreme Court has had an acting president since the retirement of Esther Hayut from the position last month since only the Judicial Selection Committee can choose a permanent president.
National Unity leader Benny Gantz, a fierce opponent of Levin’s judicial overhaul but currently a senior member of the emergency government conducting the war against Hamas, welcomed the justice minister’s statement.
“Justice Minister Yariv Levin has made a correct and statesmanlike decision to convene the Judicial Selection Committee. This is the right step for this time.”
Lapid said that “in these difficult times we need a strong and democratic legal system,” adding that “this is the time to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, appoint judges, and strengthen the legal system.”
Appointing conservative judges has become a cornerstone of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul program, which Levin sought to accomplish by radically changing the composition of the committee through legislation in March that would have given the government almost complete control over almost all judicial appointments.
The legislation was frozen due to unprecedented demonstrations and strike action ahead of the final vote in Knesset on March 27.
The justice minister has refused to convene the committee throughout this time, stating openly that he wants to give the government greater control over the panel before making appointments.
The petitions against him argued that he does not have the discretion to refuse to convene the committee based on political and legislative motivations, especially when there are numerous unfilled positions on courts around the country.
Levin argued in response that only he has the right to convene the committee and that the court has no authority to order him to do so.