Israel’s Supreme Court Delays Key Hearings on Judicial Overhaul Amidst Controversy

Israel's Supreme Court Delays Key Hearings on Judicial Overhaul Amidst Controversy

In a significant turn of events, Israel’s Supreme Court has postponed the first of three crucial hearings regarding the legality of a judicial overhaul that has been championed by the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu. This move came after the country’s attorney general, Gail Baharav-Miara, expressed strong opposition to the proposed changes.

Since taking power eight months ago, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, an ally of Netanyahu, has consistently refused to convene the committee responsible for selecting the nation’s judges. This refusal has resulted in numerous vacant judgeships across Israel. Attorney General Baharav-Miara is now set to present arguments against Levin’s position in court, a development considered highly unusual by legal experts.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin

Levin, a key figure behind the overhaul, aims to modify the composition of the selection committee, granting Netanyahu’s far-right ruling coalition the ultimate authority in appointing judges. This is part of a broader judicial overhaul proposed by Netanyahu’s government.

Before the delay, petitions challenging Levin’s refusal were scheduled to be heard on Thursday. Typically, the attorney general would represent Levin’s position in such cases. However, with Baharav-Miara openly opposing the overhaul and Levin’s stance, the Justice Minister requested the postponement to seek independent legal counsel.

Amichai Cohen, a constitutional law professor and senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, described the situation as highly exceptional. He noted that prior to the current government’s tenure, the attorney general and government rarely took opposing positions. Cohen emphasized the customary practice of arriving at a unified position through dialogue. The Supreme Court rescheduled the hearing for September 19.

Israel Democracy

In a court filing on Monday, Baharav-Miara pointed out that Levin’s actions had resulted in a significant number of judicial vacancies. According to her filing, if the selection committee is not convened by the end of the year, over 53 judgeships across the country, equivalent to more than 5% of the national bench, will remain vacant.

Levin has until Sunday to secure independent legal counsel and present his position to the Court.

This hearing is one of three pivotal cases that Israel’s Supreme Court will address this month concerning the legality of the proposed judicial overhaul. The rulings in these cases could potentially trigger a constitutional crisis if Netanyahu’s government chooses not to abide by the court’s decisions.

The most high-profile case is scheduled for September 12, in which the court will examine challenges to the coalition’s decision in July to eliminate the “reasonableness standard.” This standard has historically allowed the Court to strike down parliamentary decisions and appointments that are deemed unreasonable.

Netanyahu's coalition

Netanyahu’s coalition, which is dominated by religious and ultranationalist parties, contends that non-elected judges in Israel hold excessive power and need to be reined in. Critics of the overhaul, representing a broad cross-section of Israeli society, argue that the plan threatens the country’s system of checks and balances and consolidates power in the hands of Netanyahu and his allies.

For over eight months, tens of thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets in protest against the overhaul, marking one of the most prolonged periods of demonstrations in the country’s history. The coalition argues that judges should not have the authority to overturn significant decisions made by elected officials. Opponents of the reform contend that removing the reasonability standard opens the door to corruption and the improper appointment of unqualified individuals to crucial positions.


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