Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's unrestrained offensive Monday against rulings by the High Court of Justice - rulings he believes reflect "a lack of responsibility bordering on financial recklessness" - are themselves an expression of recklessness in both style and substance. It isn't proper for a cabinet minister to attack an institution - the judiciary - that in the United States has been characterized as having "neither the purse nor the sword" and cannot repay him in kind.
Steinitz's remarks were deficient in their superficiality. They failed to take into account the need to protect individual rights and dignity amid an absence of reasonable restraint by the government and the government's failure to reasonably balance the needs of the individual and society.
Steinitz attacked High Court decisions that in his view imposed major demands on the state budget, including the justices' requirement that the government implement its decision to reinforce buildings in areas near the Gaza Strip. He attacked the ruling that blocked the privatization of a prison after the facility was already built for that purpose, and the court decision that the tax authorities must recognize payments to child-care providers as an expense.
Steinitz's scathing attack is evidence of his lack of understanding of the judicial branch's democratic role. The Supreme Court, which also functions as the High Court of Justice, has no expertise in economics, defense or health. Its role is to protect human and civil rights - to prevent disproportional harm to people on grounds involving areas such as economics, defense.
The ruling on reinforcing buildings involves protecting the right to life and the prevention of bodily harm, which the Knesset has recognized as constitutional rights, even if they require budgetary outlays. In recognizing child-care expenditures for tax purposes, the Supreme Court was responding to the question of defining expenses incurred in earning an income. In rendering its decision, the court was fulfilling its fundamental role of interpreting laws - laws the Knesset can change.
The High Court did indeed err in delaying its ruling invalidating the privatization of prisons and in failing to issue a preliminary injunction that would have prevented the continued construction of and planning for the prison in question. The state, however, had objected to a court order, and the court was told that the Knesset intended to amend the law.
The High Court has acted with restraint for years to avoid imposing a burden on the state budget. As a result, it harmed societal rights, for example, by allowing cuts to old-age benefits because it refused to intervene in a case. If the finance minister had studied the matter about which he spoke, he would not have joined the chorus of those seeking to limit judicial review even of decisions that are unreasonable in the extreme.
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