Coalition heads to bring judicial appointments bill for final votes before Passover


Coalition party leaders said they would aim to push through legislation on the functioning of the Supreme Court Judicial Selection Committee before the Knesset breaks for Passover at the beginning of next month, and the rest will resume of the legislative package of which it is a part. the government’s plans to radically reform the judiciary after the break, urging the opposition to use that time for “negotiations”.

In a statement late Sunday, after hours of meeting to discuss ways to modify the drastic judicial reform legislation amid massive demonstrations and civil disobedience against the measures, the leaders of the coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin said Netanyahu that they will prepare the bill for judicial appointments for the latter. and a full third reading, and will meet again on the rest of the legislation to limit the powers of the High Court of Justice in mid-April.

The leaders of the coalition, according to the statement, decided to proceed with the bill based on modifications offered by MK Simcha Rothman on Sunday night, that all appointments to the Supreme Court would not be overtly political. According to his proposal, a ruling coalition would have full control over the first two appointments to the Supreme Court that would open during his tenure, but require the support of at least one opposition MK and one judge on the committee to make further appointments. the Court.

Rothman’s proposal was the coalition’s first publicly announced attempt to soften its apparently radical reforms, which have been widely criticized by the opposition and many legal scholars and lawmakers as a power grab.

In contrast, the original legislation approved at first reading in the Knesset plenum, gives the Coalition full control over all judicial appointments without the need for support from the opposition or the judiciary.

Currently, Israel’s nine-member Judicial Select Committee is divided between four politicians and five professional representatives, including three judges and two members of the Israel Bar Association.

MK Simcha Rothman, Head of the Constitution Committee, at a committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on March 5, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

According to Rothman’s newly proposed changes, the committee would be expanded from nine to 11 members, six of them from the ruling majority. There would be three government ministers from three different parties; three coalition MKs from three different parties; two opposition MKs from two different parties; and three judges from the Supreme Court, including the president of the court.

Appointments would be made by a simple majority of six out of 11 members for the first two appointments to the Supreme Court in the Knesset term. After these appointments, the majority that would be needed would remain six out of 11 but among them at least one member of the opposition and one judge would support the nomination to approve it.

In effect, this would mean that two judges with the support of a coalition government could be appointed with ease, and any remaining appointments could be consensus candidates. If, however, the coalition government chose the president of the Supreme Court and they were one of the “opposition” members of the panel who were mostly sympathetic to the government, the coalition government could make all appointments to the court control superior effectively.

Israel Bar Association members will no longer have seats on the committee, according to the proposal, and the veto-power judges will have more appointments to the Supreme Court, as seven of the nine members must support an appointment. Supporters of the change have opposed the Yes over appointment to the court by judges, although the coalition government also has a similar veto.

Explaining the rationale behind the new proposal, Rothman, who chairs the Knesset Constitution, Justice and Law Committee where the judicial reform legislation is being prepared, said it was designed to have “as many people as possible in Israel of the opinion that they have the Supreme Court,” and to enable “the people to choose the judges” but at the same time “to prevent a political force from taking control of the [Supreme] Court.”

Coalition leaders announced late Sunday that the proposal “which will be submitted for approval will bring a historic and fundamental change to the Judicial Selection Committee.”

They also asked “the opposition to take advantage of the one-month recess period, during which the legislative procedures in the Knesset cannot be carried out, to hold real negotiations to reach an understanding regarding the legislative articles that will be submitted for their subsequent approval. the break.”

“We extend a hand to all those who are truly interested in unity and wish to reach a unified compromise,” they said.

The opposition refused to negotiate with the government because of the latter’s insistence on not freezing the legislative process, which led to a backsliding. Under pressure, and amid severe public criticism, the coalition has been unilaterally considering how to change its radical reform package for the past few days even as its current legislation is being prepared for its final passage into law within two weeks.

Yair Lapid, Benny Gantz, Merav Michaeli and Avigdor Liberman meet in Jerusalem on 13 March 2023 to coordinate the opposition’s strategy for judicial reform. (Yesh Atid)

Rothmam’s proposal was quickly rejected by the Labor party, as well as by campaign groups against judicial reform, and a professor of constitutional law argued that it was misleading.

Professor Yaniv Roznai, a constitutional scholar at Reichman University, expressed serious doubts about Rothman’s idea, arguing that it lacked adequate safeguards and was dishonest. He noted that the coalition is also planning legislation that would allow it to nominate the president of the Supreme Court, changing the current situation where the presidency is based on seniority.

“How about if they appoint the president of the Supreme Court in the first meeting of the committee? Will they represent the judges [on the selection committee]? Why do you think we are vulnerable?” Roznai tweeted.

If the current Knesset were to last a full four years, up to four Supreme Court judges would reach the current mandatory retirement age of 70. A vote of nine out of 11 committee members would be required to remove a judge.

Roznai asked: “What if they lower the mandatory retirement age to 65? Will they appoint more judges with a majority of six out of 11?”

Professor Yaniv Roznai at the Times of Israel Live event at the Israel Democracy Institute in Jerusalem, December 15, 2022. (Oded Antman/IDI)

For appointments to the lower courts, the support of seven of the 11 committee members would be required for an appointment. The judicial members of the committee would also be different and would include the president of the Supreme Court together with a district court president to be selected by a panel of district court presidents, and a magistrate court president to be selected by a panel. of magistrates court presidents.

This would ensure that a ruling coalition could not appoint judges to the district courts and magistrates on its own, Rothman said earlier.

“I think that everyone who followed the [committee] It can be seen from hearings that there is an attempt here to put people’s minds at ease,” said Rothman.

“We cannot live with the reality of a court that has so much power, replicates itself, and dictates its worldview,” he continued, however, defending his goal of appointing Supreme Court justices without input of the judges in the Community. process.

“With these arrangements, we have managed to square the circle so that the people can choose the judges, and on the other hand we have to address concerns about the abuse of political power to take over the court,” said he.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli rejected Rothman’s proposal, saying that the coalition to appoint judges to the Supreme Court would itself be like “bringing an idol into the Temple,” adding that “Hungary and Poland on steroids,” and calling on. the rest of the opposition to oppose the proposal as well.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz did not immediately respond to the proposal.

A statement issued in the name of “leaders of the opposition to the dictatorship” said that Rothman was “offering to carry out a terror attack inside the Supreme Court,” which amounted to “bringing in sick judges.” [to the court] is bound to the government and not to the law.”

The bill to change the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee is just one of several bills designed to limit the power of the judiciary, and to limit the oversight of law officers within the mechanisms of government.

Another critical bill, which has also passed its first reading, would reduce the High Court’s scope for judicial review of Knesset legislation, in part by requiring a very high bar to strike down laws — a panel of 15 High Court judges and majority. of 80 percent.

The coalition’s goal is to limit what it can say on the court’s judicial activism by adding conservative judges to the bench who will be less inclined, on an ideological level, to intervene in Knesset legislation.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets over the past two months to protest the overhaul. Business leaders, Nobel-winning economists, and prominent security officials have spoken out against it, some military reservists have stopped reporting for duty, and even some of Israel’s closest allies, with their includes the United States, Netanyahu argued slowly down.

Rothman’s proposal was the coalition’s first unilateral public attempt to respond to protesters, its own politicians, and legal experts, who demanded changes in response to the content of the reforms or the social polarization they created.

Last week, coalition leaders quickly rejected a separate judicial reform proposal from President Isaac Herzog that would deny two of the government’s key policy points: seizing control over the appointment of judges and creating a mechanism for the government to easily override judicial review.

Herzog has warned that Israel faces a “veritable civil war” over the issue, and pleaded with the government to abandon its current legislation.

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