04 November '16..
The latest battle in Israel’s ongoing struggle to define itself is being fought over the way Supreme Court justices are selected. The 15 justices are appointed by a judicial selection committee of 9 members:
- The Minister of Justice, who chairs the committee,
- One additional cabinet minister, chosen by the cabinet (i.e., the government),
- Two Knesset members, one from the coalition and one from the opposition,
- Two members of the Bar Association, selected by the association, and
- Three current justices of the Supreme Court, including the President of the Court (Chief Justice).
Presently, a super-majority of 7 committee members is required to approve a candidate. This gives the existing court justices a veto power, and – since the Court and the Bar Association lean leftward – gives left-of-center candidates a significant advantage. It also means that the Court is self-selecting and unaccountable.
The Israeli Supreme Court has far more power than the US Supreme Court. Rules about justiciability (what matters are in the purview of the Court) and standing (who can petition the court) are far looser than in other democracies; any citizen can petition the Court about any action of the government. It can throw out a law passed by the Knesset even if there’s no litigation about it. Or it can let it be known before a bill is passed that it will not approve it in its present form, and thereby force changes.
The Court greatly expanded its role and its power as a result of the activities of Aharon Barak, who was a justice from 1978-95, and its President from 1995-2006. The American jurist Richard Posner explains just how much power Barak placed in the hands of the Court (his hands!) in a review of one of Barak’s books. It is eye-opening.
Many Israelis feel that that it is unacceptable that in a democratic country so much power is held by an institution that is almost entirely not accountable to the people or its elected representatives. On the other hand, there is great respect for the Court and for the importance of having an independent judiciary and a rule of law.
The present Minister of Justice, Ayelet Shaked, has submitted a bill to the Knesset to change the rules so that only a simple majority of 5 members will be required. This would eliminate the veto power held by the current justices.
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