'Grunis Law' Doesn't Pave Way for Grunis to Be Next Chief Justice

Bill's sponsors overlooked Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin, who would serve a three-month term.

If the "Grunis bill" is enacted - in the version passed on Monday by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee - the next Supreme Court president will not be Justice Asher Grunis, as intended by the bill's sponsors, but Deputy Supreme Court President Eliezer Rivlin. His term will last exactly three months, from the end of February through May, before Grunis assumes the post.

Beinisch, Rivlin and others in the court system and Knesset were shocked to discover on Monday, following Haaretz's query, that the bill's sponsors had overlooked Rivlin.

Justice Asher Grunis - Tomer Appelbaum - 29112011
Tomer Appelbaum

Only seven committee members who made it to the meeting, called by its chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), voted on the bill. It passed first reading by a majority of four coalition members against three opposition members.

Since 2007 the law stipulates that the candidate for Supreme Court president serve a minimum three-year term ahead of his retirement. This would disqualify the candidacies of both Rivlin and Grunis and make Justice Miriam Naor the next president.

MK Yaakov Katz (National Union ), who proposed amending the law, asked to reduce the minimum term from three to two years. This would have ruled out Rivlin, legitimized Grunis and required Naor to wait for Grunis' retirement in 2015 before being appointed president.

The Supreme Court justices assumed until Monday that this was the version that was adopted by the Constitution Committee to be brought before the Knesset for second and third reading.

However, at some stage between Katz's proposal and the first reading, the length of term was not merely shortened, but dropped completely, paving the way for Rivlin to serve a three-month term as Supreme Court president until his retirement.

Customarily, when the Supreme Court president retires at 70, the most senior Supreme Court justice is appointed in his place, with the approval of the Judicial Appointments Committee.

Assuming the Judicial Appointments Committee sticks to the seniority custom, Grunis will be appointed president only if Rivlin renounces the post.

Asked if he intends to serve as president for three months or retire with Beinisch, Rivlin did not reply. The courts spokeswoman said "the bill has not passed the Knesset's second and third reading yet and in any case, the Supreme Court president is appointed by the Judicial Appointments Committee."

According to the "Grunis bill," Rivlin is expected to serve as president from February 28, Beinisch's birthday, to May 28, Rivlin's birthday and retirement day. Then the presidency is to pass to Grunis, who will be the most senior justice.

Naor, who was appointed to the Supreme Court on the same day as Grunis in 2003, has equal seniority to Grunis but because he is older than her he has priority. By law, the older justice is more senior among those who have served the same length of time.

Age will also be the deciding factor among justices Edna Arbel, Elyakim Rubinstein and Salim Joubran, who were appointed on the same day in 2004.

An explanation to the amendment, passed at Monday's Knesset Committee meeting, was published officially on October 31. It says "the proposal is based on the recognition that there is a difference between the role of the Supreme Court president and his deputy and the [other] roles, which justifies revoking the limitation regarding a minimum term. This will extend the Judicial Appointments Committee's discretion and revoke an unnecessary restriction on properly serving in Supreme Court roles."

On the face of it, revoking the minimum tenure term would enable the majority in the Constitution committee to do away with the "seniority" clause and advance any Supreme Court justice to the role of president.

When Beinisch completes her term she will have served about five and a half years. Had the minimum tenure clause of 2007 been in effect earlier, two former presidents, Moshe Landau (two years and a month ) and Yitzhak Cohen (19 months ) would not have been appointed to the post.

Meir Shamgar served the longest term (11 years and nine months ), followed by Shimon Agranat (11 and a half years ) and Aharon Barak (11 years and 1 month ).

If Rivlin serves in the last quarter of his term as president rather than deputy president, his monthly salary will be increased by some NIS 1,000 - a sum that will affect his pension as well. The waiting months will cost Grunis some NIS 10,000, because a justice appointed president receives a monthly wage raise of some NIS 3,500.

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