Supreme Court President Miriam Naor on Monday warned Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked that delaying the announcement of her replacement could result in legal action.
In a strongly worded letter, Naor warned that if Shaked prevents the Judicial Appointments Committee from announcing likely choice Esther Hayut as the next court president, she would take the matter to the High Court.
Shaked has in principle agreed to Hayut’s appointment, but reportedly wants to reach a consensus with Naor on replacements for retiring justices Yoram Danziger and Uri Shoham.
The Judicial Appointments Committee is slated to vote on Hayut’s appointment at its next meeting scheduled for July 18, but according to the Ynet news website, Naor is worried Shaked will leave the vote off of the meeting’s agenda because the two have failed to reach an agreement.
The Judicial Appointments Committee is obligated to publish upcoming votes 45 days in advance, and next Sunday will be 45 days from the committee’s July meting.
The justice minister alone controls the committee’s agenda, meaning that Shaked could technically postpone the appointment of a new chief justice until after Naor retires in October.
“Shaked should use her authority to establish the schedule only in a true and professional manner,” Naor said in her letter on Monday. “It seems the only reason to delay the committee meeting is because we were unable to reach an agreement regarding the two Supreme Court judges that will be appointed in place of Danziger and Shoham.”
The current nine-member panel consists of Shaked; Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon; two lawmakers from the governing coalition, Nurit Koren (Likud) and Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu); representatives of the Bar Association; and three Supreme Court judges — Naor, Elyakim Rubinstein and Salim Joubran.
Seven out of the nine — or two less than the number of those present — must approve judicial appointments, with the Supreme Court justices usually voting as a bloc. In practice, this prevents the appointment of judges without the Supreme Court’s approval.
Shaked, a member of the right-wing Jewish Home Party, has frequently spoken out in favor reining in the Supreme Court or changing the makeup of the justices to incorporate more conservative views.
Last year the justice minister locked horns with Naor over a proposed bill, supported by Shaked, that would see judges appointed with a regular majority of votes from the selection committee.
Naor accused Shaked of seeking to unfairly reshape the nomination process, and announced she would end private consultations with the minister. The bill was later shelved and the judicial committee resumed discussions on the nomination process.
The court has frequently drawn the ire of right-wing and Orthodox politicians with its interventionist ethos pioneered by Aharon Barak, who served as chief justice between 1995 and 2006. In its alternate role as the High Court of Justice — the country’s highest court of equity to which almost anyone can appeal in real-time against the actions of any arm of the state — Israel’s top court has wielded powers considered by many scholars to be greater than in any other democracy.
That power has driven the contentious battle over its composition.
Critics of the court argue that the present system for selecting justices results in a court comprising largely like-minded figures who seek the appointment only of those who share their ideological agenda.
The court’s defenders say its powers have developed to fill the void left by a Knesset that is famously unable to settle key questions of law and society, frequently shirking its responsibility to decide on issues of religious freedoms or to act to protect civil liberties or the rights of Palestinians. In Israel’s fractious society, maintaining a strong independent judiciary, they say, serves as a counterweight against the danger that a “tyranny of the majority” in Israel’s unicameral parliament might trample the rights of those who are not fully represented or sufficiently protected by the political system.
Marissa Newman contributed to this report.