Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and cabinet colleagues said yesterday they seek to cancel the seniority principle in appointing a new Supreme Court president. The move would make it easier for a government to quickly advance a judge who shares its political views.
Linked to this, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation rejected the appeals by ministers Dan Meridor and Benny Begin against a bill reducing the minimum term for a Supreme Court president from three years to two. This bill is sponsored by MK Yaakov Katz (National Union).
According to a bill passed by Neeman's predecessor, Daniel Friedmann, a justice cannot become the court's president if he or she is expected to serve as president less than three years.
In a sense, when the current president, Justice Dorit Beinisch, retires, the most senior justice will be Asher Dan Grunis, because the court's vice president, Eliezer Rivlin, is set to retire just a few months after Beinisch.
But Grunis would only have two years, 10 months and 19 days to serve, and Katz's bill is meant to allow Grunis to be appointed court president despite Friedmann's criteria.
Grunis is seen as one of the Supreme Court's more conservative justices.
Katz himself said he thought it was "unfair and inappropriate for Grunis not to be appointed president because of a few weeks he's missing."
The bill was endorsed by the Ministerial Committee on Legislation last month, and the rejection of Begin's and Meridor's appeal means it will come before the Knesset for a preliminary reading on Wednesday. But if Neeman's proposal goes forward, the Judicial Appointments Committee will be able to choose any of the current justices.
It's not clear how the debate on the seniority principle will pan out. Toward the end of the year, even before Beinisch retires, the Israeli Bar Association will elect its two new representatives for the Judicial Appointments Committee, which will have a decisive effect on whether the committee retains the seniority principle.
At this point, it is believed the committee's political members - ministers Neeman and Gilad Erdan, and MKs David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Uri Ariel (National Union) - are determined to abolish the seniority principle. The newly elected chairman of the Israel Bar Association, Doron Barzilai, has also said he opposes the seniority principle.
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