Israeli right wins Supreme Court appointments fight
THE APPOINTMENT of four new justices to Israel’s Supreme Court in the space of six months was always going to be a major event in Israel’s legal stratosphere.
For months there has been a tug-ofwar between Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Supreme Court President Miriam Naor over the identity of the new justices.
Minister Shaked has made no attempt to hide her ambition to shift the court rightwards, towards a more conservative and less interventionist position; while President Naor, who is one of the four justices reaching the retirement age of 70 this year, fought to preserve the court’s independence.
The decision last week by the Judicial Appointments Committee has largely been seen as a victory for Ms Shaked, who managed to put on the bench three relatively conservative justices, favoured by the politicians. But was not a total defeat for the Supreme Court stalwarts, either.
Much of the attention has been given to the fact that two of the new justices, David Mintz and Yael Willner, are religious, and that Mr Mintz lives on a settlement.
But that does not necessarily mean their rulings can be predicted — especially not those of Mr Mintz, who is seen as an independent. George Karra is also seen as an unpredictable voice but is expected to fit in with the prevailing atmosphere in the court. The arch-conservative in the new group is expected to be Yosef Elron, a veteran Haifa judge who is opposed to judicial activism (when rulings tend to be based on personal or political considerations rather than existing law).
But while Ms Shaked got two of her favoured candidates, Mr Mintz and Mr Elron, she was forced to compromise on Justices Willner and Karra.
President Naor, while only getting one of her favourites in, can at least be satisfied that the new justices are experienced judges.
In the past, many justices seen as right wing have fallen into line on reaching the bench. The presidency, which is decided by seniority, will go later this year to Justice Esther Hayut, a staunch interventionist who can still rely on a like-minded majority among her colleagues.
As the president determines the identity of the justices who sit on each petition (very few hearings are held in front of the entire 15-justice bench), it can be expected that the court will continue to hand down relatively liberal rulings and, when it sees fit, strike down laws voted on by the Knesset.
Assuming the right wing remains in power, this will have been just another battle in the long war over the Supreme Court’s identity and philosophy.