Unconfirmed reports say coalition considering moderations to judicial overhaul bills

Levin’s office denies TV report on idea to slightly reduce the coalition’s hold on judicial appointments; other reports cite possible amending of the High Court override clause

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a debate and a vote in the  Knesset plenum, March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a debate and a vote in the Knesset plenum, March 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Following the complete rejection by the coalition of President Isaac Herzog’s “People’s Plan” to resolve the political crisis over the government’s judicial overhaul, the government has reportedly begun to examine options for moderating the current legislation itself.

Among the reported suggestions, which were not confirmed by coalition officials, is an option to soften the proposals regarding the appointment of judges, one of the key pillars of the government’s plan. In its current legislation, which is set for final readings in the Knesset by the end of the month, the coalition would have full control over the appointment of justices, as part of a package of laws that would radically reduce the independence of the judiciary.

According to Channel 12, senior coalition officials are considering a possibility whereby the coalition would not automatically be able to impose its choice of judges, but the next three slots to open on the High Court of Justice would be filled by coalition appointees.

This would allow the coalition to add the conservative justices it wishes to the court in order to restrain what the right wing sees as the court’s judicial activism against legislation and government policy.

After those three appointments, both the coalition and the opposition would have a veto over subsequent appointments, meaning that consensus would be required to appoint High Court justices from then on.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s office denied, however, that this proposal was being considered, and Ynet and other outlets reported that changing the coalition’s current legislative proposal for the Judicial Selection Committee, under which the government would have total control over judicial appointments, was not an option.

The issue of how to choose the Supreme Court president is also being debated by the coalition, with one option to give both sides a veto, although Levin, a chief architect of the judicial overhaul program, opposes this proposal and wants the coalition to be able to appoint the court president, as is proposed in the current legislation, according to Channel 12. At present, the court’s president is determined on the basis of seniority.

Other possible reported changes to the fast-advancing legislation include the option of giving Basic Laws greater constitutional status by raising the legislative requirements to pass one. This would reduce the possibility that the Basic Laws could be abused for narrow political purposes in light of the fact that the overhaul package bars the High Court from judicial review over Basic Laws.

According to Ynet, the option being discussed is to require four readings for a Basic Law, instead of the normal three, and that each reading be approved by at least 61 MKs, with the fourth reading coming only in the following Knesset, that is, after elections, before it enters into law.

Alternatively, a Basic Law could be passed in one Knesset term if it received the support of 70 MKs, the report said.

The highly controversial High Court override clause, which would allow the Knesset to preemptively immunize legislation from the court’s judicial review, may also undergo some change, according to the reports.

The current proposals would allow the Knesset to circumvent High Court review with the support of just 61 MKs in all three readings for any given piece of legislation.

Speaking in Germany on Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated he was open to changes on the override clause, saying he was aware that the issue must be handled carefully or else it could create what he described as a new imbalance in the branches of government which would be “just as bad” as the current situation.

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