Justice Edmond Levy Does Not Fear Holding the Minority Opinion

Levy stood alone against six peers in a panel that approved the slashes in the guaranteed income allowances.

Justice Edmond Levy is probably the justice most sensitive to personal issues in the Supreme Court today. On issues of social and economic rights, the Supreme Court justices tread as if walking on eggs, fearful of raising the wrath of Knesset or cabinet. Not Levy. He is not afraid of holding the minority opinion and ruling in favor of the petitioners.

When the defendants in the murder of Danny Katz were taken into custody once again, after being convicted in the retrial, one of them had a baby. The mother and infant attended the debate on their custody in the High Court. Before the debate began, Justice Edmond Levy handed a note to one of the guards, who went off and returned half an hour later with a note for the justice.

After two hours of debate, Levy cleared the courtroom except for the new father, who received, without even asking, half an hour alone with his newborn son.

Levy stood alone against six peers in a panel that approved the slashes in the guaranteed income allowances. He believed the legislation cutting the allowances should be annuled. "The right to live a dignified basic existence is an inseparable part of the right to human dignity, Levy ruled.

In his opinion, this right includes "the right to adequate living conditions and is not intended merely to keep a man from intolerable deprivation."

About a month ago Levy was in the minority when he ruled in favor of the appeal against Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's decision to postpone the meeting to determine the subsdized "medicine basket" until after the elections.

Levy's sensitivity to issues of humanity was also reflected in his verdict revoking the the practice of binding migrant workers to their employers. According to this practice, the workers lose their right to be in Israel once they leave their employers. "We must not turn their poverty into an instrument for uncontrolled, disproportionate infringement of basic rights," he ruled. "We, who know what it is like to be in exile and know what it is like to be a stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Levy ruled to broaden the ban against employers' firing an employee who is absent from work due to fertility treatments and sided with Justice Dalia Dorner in the ruling enabling children suffering from Down's syndrome to become integrated in the general education frameworks.

Believer in intervention

Levy has been labeled a sort of "legal anarchist," whose arguments often have an emotional basis rather than a legalistic one. However, Dr. Eyal Gross of Tel Aviv University asserts that Levy's verdicts on social issues are impeccably built and established legally and constitutionally.

"Levy proves that social rights can be protected. It was harder for the High Court to swallow his ruling about guaranteed income, so he remained in the minority, but his analysis is detailed and well-founded, as well as sophisticated," says Gross.

However, even Levy's sensitivity appears to be limited. Some six months ago he rejected the appeal of Inas al-Atrash, a 3-year-old girl from an unrecognized Bedouin village, who is dying of cancer. She demanded the state connect her village to the electricity grid or pay for the generator that provided power to the refrigerator in which her syringes were kept. She required the injections at regular intervals, as part of the chemotherapy she was undergoing. "This little girl is fighting for her life and nobody can stand idly by," wrote Levy, and then rejected the petition.

"Levy's social sensitivity does not always ensure results," says Dr. Yoram Rabin of the College of Management Law School. "The al-Atrash verdict is disappointing."

However, Levy is not only considered sensitive to social issues but as the most activist Supreme Court justice ever. Supreme Court President Aharon Barak has granted the justices, in his constitutional rulings, freedom to revoke laws and cabinet resolutions as unreasonable or for infringing on human rights. Levy takes this freedom to extremes Barak did not intend.

Levy's most important verdict so far - and one of the most important ones ever issued by the Supreme Court - is his minority opinion, against 10 colleagues, about the disengagement.

Levy wanted to accept the petition and annul the Evacuation-Compensation Law and the entire pullout. For example, he said that in extreme cases the court must intervene when elected public officials deviate from the platform on which they campaigned and break their promises to their voters. His ultra-interventionist approach was also reflected in the issue of demolishing the Gush Katif synagogues during the pullout. Levy wanted to oblige the state to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority before making a final decision to demolish the synagogues.

Convicted Yigal Amir

Levy is identified with certain political positions. He is the first judge who had a formal political career - as acting Ramle mayor for the Likud. His social, religious and cultural background is easily traced in his rulings. "I added my signature with a shaking hand," he wrote in the verdict rejecting an appeal against the prisoner exchange deal with the PA. "My soul is filled with disgust from the contents of the (Playboy) channel," he wrote, although he joined the justices that permitted it air.

However, Levy's legal expertise is in criminal affairs. As a district court judge he headed the panel that convicted Yigal Amir for the murder of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He also convicted former Rabin aide Shimon Sheves, before the case reached the Supreme Court.