Ahead of Netanyahu-Hayut meet, thousands protest bid to hobble High Court

Ahead of Netanyahu-Hayut meet, thousands protest bid to hobble High Court

Prime minister to sit down with court’s president and justice minister amid push to limit its capacity to overturn laws

Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on April 28, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv on April 28, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Some 3,000 people turned out Saturday night for a demonstration in Tel Aviv against government plans to pass a law that would limit the High Court of Justice’s authority to strike down legislation on constitutional grounds.

The demonstrators, who congregated outside the Habima national theater, held aloft signs with slogans including “Bibi get your hands off the High Court of Justice,” Haaretz reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is facing pressure from the right-wing Jewish Home party to pass the legislation to hobble the court, is set to meet on Sunday with Justice Minister Ayeled Shaked of Jewish Home and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut to discuss the initiative.

Legislation proposed by Jewish Home would allow 61 out of the Knesset’s 120 members to re-approve a law struck down by the Supreme Court — when it sits as the High Court of Justice, Israel’s supreme constitutional tribunal — effectively giving any government the ability to quash the ruling.

The legislation would take the form of a passage added to the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. In the absence of a constitution, Israel’s basic laws set the parameters of the balance of power between different branches of government.

Netanyahu’s scheduled meeting with Shaked and Hayut follows the advice of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who told the prime minister that in order for the legislation to proceed he would first have to meet with the court president. Mandelblit himself said he would consider supporting the legislation only if it demanded a majority of 70 Knesset members to overturn a court ruling.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked (r) and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on February 22, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash 90)

Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads Jewish Home, has threatened to hold up coalition legislation if ministers don’t approve the so-called “override bill” this week.

Bennett’s threat came last Tuesday, after coalition partners put off by a week a vote on the bill by the powerful Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The rescheduling of the vote was prompted by Hayut, who had made the postponement a condition for meeting with Netanyahu.

Bennett, along with Shaked, who chairs the ministerial committee, has been the main proponent of the bill, which critics say would disrupt the balance between the legislative and judicial branches.

Hayut is expected to tell Netanyahu and Shaked that she strongly objects to court rulings being overturned with a majority of 61 MKs. The Ynet news site reported that the court would accept the legislation if it would require a two-thirds majority, or 80 MKs, but that Hayut may compromise on 75 MKs being able to overturn a ruling. Coalition partners Likud and Kulanu are reportedly prepared to require 65 MKs, while Bennett and Shaked insist that a majority of 61 MKs should be enough.

The Jewish Home party has long campaigned for clipping the wings of what it regards as an overly liberal Supreme Court, and Shaked has succeeded in having several conservative candidates appointed to the top bench.

The idea of legislating to alter the balance between the judicial and executive arms of government has gathered steam lately, particularly after a recent ruling by the court blocking deportations of African migrants.

Earlier this month Netanyahu met with former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak in an apparent effort to show he is seeking middle ground on the issue, Hadashot news reported.

According to the report, the meeting with Barak, a symbol of the power of the court, was meant to underline Netanyahu’s commitment to the justice system in general and the High Court in particular.

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