Rothman to wrap up ‘reasonableness’ bill talks on Sunday, Knesset to vote week after

Committee set to vote on bill during next week, deliver it for final Knesset approval; PM said to tell Herzog he is working on a new version, but won’t return to president’s talks

MK Simcha Rothman, chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, leads a committee meeting at the Knesset on June 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)
MK Simcha Rothman, chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, leads a committee meeting at the Knesset on June 20, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Knesset Constitutional Committee  Chairman Simcha Rothman will push his “reasonableness” bill through his Knesset committee next week, with the controversial legislation set to become law the following week.

Sunday will be the final day of deliberations on the bill, which will block judicial scrutiny over the “reasonableness” of politicians’ decisions, prior to it going to a vote in the committee later in the week, Rothman informed committee members on Thursday.

Rothman said in a statement that he intends to open the bill up for reservations by the opposition on Sunday morning, with thousands of objections expected. They will need to be filed by 7 a.m. Monday morning.

On Monday morning, the Religious Zionism lawmaker plans to begin voting on the bill, including all of its reservations, aiming for it to secure committee approval by Wednesday.

Rothman said that due to the expected intense interest in the discussions, he would limit comments to committee members and other MKs who had not yet expressed their opinion on the bill.

If all goes according to Rothman’s plan, then the bill will go to the Knesset plenum for its second and third reading the following Sunday, July 23, thereby officially making it a law.

The Knesset’s summer session ends on July 30.

Army Radio reported Friday that Rothaman had shortened the discussion period in an effort to prevent attempts to soften the language of the bill.

The original bill draft, approved by the Knesset in its first reading on Tuesday, barred courts from invalidating or even discussing government and ministers’ decisions based on their “reasonableness,” an established judicial test.

After the bill passed its first reading, Rothman presented a new, tougher version that specifies that the High Court of Justice also cannot intervene to force a minister to exercise their authority, or in appointments made by the cabinet or its ministers.

Rothman said the change was “to make it clear that the issue is not up for debate and also that a decision to refrain from exercising authority — where there is a decision to abstain” — is also not open to judicial scrutiny.

However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told President Isaac Herzog on Thursday that he is consulting with academics to propose a different version of the “reasonableness” bill, according to a report by the Kan public broadcaster.

President Isaac Herzog (right) shakes hands with Benjamin Netanyahu after presenting the Likud leader with a mandate to form a new government, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on November 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

According to the report, Netanyahu also told Herzog that he is not interested in returning to negotiations with the opposition at the president’s residence, as they had not produced any progress.

Critics of the bill — the latest push in the coalition’s plan to curb judicial checks on its own power — have said that the coalition is pushing to eliminate the reasonableness test in order to serve specific political goals.

Three of these goals — returning a coalition party head to the cabinet after the High Court of Justice nixed their appointment as “unreasonable in the extreme,” possibly making good on ministerial threats to fire the attorney general, and enabling the justice minister to not convene the Judicial Selection Committee until the coalition changes the committee’s composition — would be specifically protected by the bill’s amended language.

During the discussion on the new version, Justice Ministry senior legal adviser Avital Sternberg told the committee that the Attorney General’s Office viewed the bill’s new version as an “escalation” of the originally proposed legislation, not the “softening” critics had demanded.

“This change underlines the fact that the bill will apply to those who hold the most leadership power — the government, the prime minister and ministers,” she said.

She added, however, that “according to our understanding, this is merely a clarification of the original bill… that this isn’t a proposal aimed at only shielding from judicial review decisions on the government’s broad policies, but also specific, practicable decisions.”

Rothman intervened at one point to ask what was meant by “softening,” arguing that it wasn’t a defined legal term.

Pulled from the bill was a short, controversial clause that had stated that “other elected officials, as set by law,” could also enjoy the shield against judicial review over their decisions.

Opposition members had asked Rothman to pull that clause from the bill, over fears that it could be used to eliminate the reasonableness test for municipal officials in addition to national ones.

The committee’s legal adviser confirmed that separate legislation would, in any case, have had to be passed to specify that city halls are also protected from scrutiny, meaning that deleting the clause will make little practical difference.

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