Benjamin Netanyahu - AP - November 2011
Netanyahu at a session of the Knesset. Photo by AP
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the shelving of a bill which would have required that candidates for Supreme Court justice face a confirmation hearing before the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee. Netanyahu called Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and MK Zeev Elkin (Likud ), who was one of the bill's sponsors, and demanded that efforts to pass the legislation stop.

The prime minister expressed concern that the legislation would violate the separation of powers between the legislative and judicial branches of government, and reportedly expressed his belief to Neeman and Elkin of the supreme importance of the independence of the high court. "There will not be such a law in a government of which I am the head," he reportedly said.

As a result of the opposition from the prime minister, Elkin as well as Likud MK Yariv Levin, who co-sponsored the bill, and Environmental Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan are drafting alternative legislation that would require that candidates for Supreme Court justice appear publicly before the Judicial Appointments Committee.

Netanyahu withdrew earlier support for the bill after Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein delivered a formal opinion opposing the legislation. The attorney general said the bill presented considerable legal problems and would violate the balance of powers among branches of government. Weinstein also expressed doubts about whether the bill would survive the scrutiny of a challenge before the High Court of Justice.

The bill would have required candidates for Supreme Court justice or for president of the Supreme Court to appear before a public hearing of Knesset Constitution Committee, which would have had the right to veto their candidacies.

In related news, legislation that is seen as expediting the selection of Jerusalem District Court Judge Noam Sohlberg to the High Court is being fast-tracked on Wednesday. The Constitution Committee is expected to convene this morning to prepare legislation that would change the composition of membership on the Judicial Appointments Committee. The bill would then go to a vote on first reading before the Knesset as a whole.

The legislation would designate the two members of the Israel Bar Association on the committee as the association chairman and a representative of the opposition to the governing leadership, rather than the current system in which the association simply designates two representatives. The association chairman, Doron Barzilai, is considered close to Neeman and the change is viewed as strengthening Neeman's efforts to get Sohlberg, whose candidacy he supports, nominated to the court.

The Knesset opposition is geared up for the possibility that the measure will be brought to a vote on first reading on Wednesday. Knesset regulations don't normally allow the vote on first reading of legislation, but the Knesset speaker, Reuven Rivlin, has authority to make exceptions. Rivlin, however, is thought to oppose the bill, as legislation that is improperly geared to benefit specific individuals.