In a bold challenge to the power of Israel’s judiciary, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has backed a plan to remove the judges’ veto on appointees to the High Court.
Shaked proposes that appointments be approved by a simple 5-4 majority of the Judicial Appointments Committee, instead of the current system requiring at least a 7-2 majority. As it stands, with three sitting justices on the committee, the court can effectively veto any appointment they don’t like. The other members include two ministers, two Knesset members and two Bar Association representatives.
Although the proposal has already stirred intense controversy, it is not as revolutionary as it sounds, since it would merely be a reinstatement of the procedure that was in place until 2008, when the 7-2 rule was implemented.
At stake is the composition of the High Court for years to come. Four vacancies are set to open up in 2017 when Court President Miriam Naor, Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Joubran and Tzvi Zilbertal retire.
Shaked, who chairs the panel, has said that she wants to appoint more conservative justices in 2017, when four vacancies will open. The retiring justices are Naor, Elyakim Rubinstein, Salim Joubran and Zvi Zylbertal. The first three are also the three judicial members of the appointments committee.
Legislation to enact the change has already been submitted by MKs Robert Ilatov (Yisrael Beytenu) and Nurit Koren (Likud), both of whom are on the appointments committee. But it hasn’t yet been discussed by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which must precede debate and voting in the Knesset plenum.
In an interview with Haaretz, Shaked said candidly that her intention is to appoint more conservatives, to correct a heavily liberal imbalance.
“The constitutional revolution has gone too far,” she said, using a common term for increased “judicial activism” that took hold in the 1980’s. “Over the years, the court has taken powers for itself that it shouldn’t have taken. The separation of powers has been blurred.”
Unsurprisingly, the judicial community is not happy about the bill. One retired senior judge commented: “There are clear criteria for appointing justices, and one’s political or social worldview isn’t among them. This is an unacceptable, illegitimate and dangerous consideration. Nevertheless, even if the justice minister wanted to appoint a political figure, it wouldn’t be simple.”
Criticism has come from the center-right, as well. Former Likud Minister Gideon Saar told Army Radio Tuesday that he was against the idea, which would overturn the 7-2 system that he himself had supported in 2008.
“It is fine to want right-wing judges.” Saar said. “At the time we introduced this law, we were in the opposition, but the law was supported by all but the extreme left.”
“You can’t change the basic rules, based on today’s environment.” Saar argued. “Today the right has the majority, but what about tomorrow?”