Editorial

Israel's Supreme Court Should Ignore All the 'Noise'

Since politicians will presumably continue to level besides-the-point criticism either way out of narrow, cynical considerations, the court and its incoming president would be wise to disregard it

Israeli Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut, incoming court president.
Israeli Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut, incoming court president.

The Judicial Appointments Committee chose Justice Esther Hayut to be the next president of the Supreme Court on Tuesday, and Justice Hanan Melcer was named her deputy. Hayut will take office in about six weeks, when incumbent Supreme Court President Miriam Naor retires.

Hayut was chosen despite Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked’s best efforts to delay the process, which was consequently nerve-racking for all concerned. Shaked even engaged in a public spat with Naor. Her insistence on questioning the seniority principle, which has guided the choice of Supreme Court presidents and deputy presidents since the state’s founding, in the run-up to Hayut’s appointment was unseemly. It was also pointless, since no other justice would have applied for the position in any case. It’s regrettable that the justice minister seeks to reap political capital among her electorate even at the price of ongoing harm to the judiciary and its senior justices.

Hayut’s professionalism and her record of rulings make it impossible for politicians to label her as affiliated with any particular party, and that’s as it should be. In any case, such labels are fundamentally ridiculous and reflect a misunderstanding of the judiciary’s work.

The politicians would do well to learn a lesson from the enactment of the so-called Grunis Law, which enabled Justice Asher Grunis to be appointed Supreme Court president. Right-wing Knesset members expressed hopes at the time that he would decide cases the way they wanted him to, but Grunis quickly proved that there’s no relationship between a judge’s image – be it “activist,” “conservative,” “proceduralist” or other – and the essence of judicial work and upholding the rule of law.

Grunis was promoted from the district court to the Supreme Court during the term of Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who elevated him solely out of considerations of ability, while ignoring the question of whether Grunis’ judicial agenda matched or contradicted his own. Thanks to the seniority principle, Grunis later become court president and showed once again why this system is essential.

The incoming court president has stressed in her decisions the importance of the rule of law, the principle of equality, human rights and the separation of powers. Though she has sometimes ruled in favor of the court overturning legislation, she has also given significant weight to security considerations, defendants’ rights and the importance of efficiency in economic cases. Which politician is capable of weighing all that? And what does all that tell us about what we can expect from Hayut’s presidency?

Since politicians will presumably continue to level besides-the-point criticism either way out of narrow, cynical considerations, the Supreme Court and its incoming president would be wise to ignore all the background noise and stick to issuing rulings that are faithful to the law and their interpretation of it, whether this earns them applause or barrages of criticism.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel