A Court Without Dalia Dorner

Tomorrow, Dalia Dorner will remove her black robes for the last time and move from her elevated position as a justice of the Supreme Court back down to the people, from which she essentially never severed herself. Her Honor, and much honor is due her, put great importance on human dignity and the right to individual freedom.

Tomorrow, Dalia Dorner will remove her black robes for the last time and move from her elevated position as a justice of the Supreme Court back down to the people, from which she essentially never severed herself. Attorneys may describe her as being distanced from the public and those who stood before the bench, but her verdicts expose another face. Her Honor, and much honor is due her, put great importance on human dignity and the right to individual freedom.

She required the military authorities to allow personalized epitaphs on soldiers' headstones, in a ruling that emphasized the individual versus the collective and included the observation that "every child is an only child to his parents." In many rulings, Dorner made herself the public's representative in the Supreme Court, with her clients being the citizens of Israel engaged in disputes with the governing authorities. She became the trusted ambassador of blue-collar criminal suspects and defendants, as opposed to members of the more privileged classes. Her judicial rulings, according to which an individual should not be arrested until legal proceedings against him are completed, unless the body of evidence indicates guilt beyond any reasonable doubt, became the sole opinion among her colleagues. With Dorner on the bench, many suspects were released during her "arrest duty watches," in which she often exasperated the police and the prosecution, while winning the support of defense attorneys and their clients, who will miss her very much.

Her sharp surgeon's scalpel, which located "legal mines" with record speed, always elucidated the root of the problem that would have to be addressed. Her belief that laws and rights had "to be taken seriously" became a watchword. This attitude was considered her biggest "sin," which provoked strident criticism and accusations of judicial activism. This was the case with her rulings on the subject of arrests, which granted heavy weight to the basic right of individual freedom, relying on both the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty and the new Arrests Law that was adopted by the Knesset. The new point of equilibrium that arises from the Basic Law, which emphasizes human freedom and the right to a fair trial, impelled her to rule in favor of a retrial for Amos Baranes.

Her basic belief that laws are meant to be implemented lies at the core of her judicial rulings on economic and social matters, which required the state to allocate adequate budgets to the Special Education Law to enable the integration of children with disabilities into ordinary education frameworks. These rulings, and the order nisi she issued that required the state to determine a standard for dignified human existence, caused a storm of arguments against excessive involvement by the High Court of Justice. For Dorner, this was merely an expression of the courts' obligation to act to implement legislation enacted by the Knesset itself regarding the right to education and to human dignity.

The point of departure for Dorner's verdicts was a genuine commitment to applying laws intended to benefit the individual. Her destination was far removed - creating rights that are the end result of the rulings handed down by the court. In recognizing the right of an El Al cabin attendant in the Danilowitz case to receive a plane ticket for his homosexual partner, Dorner may have relied on the Fair Labor Opportunities Law, but she noted that she could have reached the same verdict even in the absence of the law, by virtue of the general principles of equality and the prohibition on discrimination.

Dorner reiterated the same argument - that the same verdict could have been reached even without a specific law, by virtue of the principle of equality, which is a fundamental principle of Israeli jurisprudence - when she ordered the government to allocate budgets for the Special Education Law. This statement of principle, which brought the wrath of the Knesset speaker down upon her, placed Dorner at the gate of judicial defense of individual rights. In her eyes, equality - like freedom of expression - is a fundamental criterion. This was true for women's equality (the Alice Miller case), and it was true when Dorner wrote a minority opinion that would have convicted the chairman of the Jewish Agency executive, Simcha Dinitz. This opinion was based on her unwillingness to show consideration for the high and mighty by accepting Dinitz's explanations, which would not have been accepted if offered by an ordinary citizen.

A Supreme Court without Dalia Dorner won't be the same without her unique, powerful and uncompromising voice. The judicial selection committee will face a tough challenge in finding a worthy substitute for her.