Guaranteeing Seniority

A draft law that would shorten the minimum period of time between the swearing-in of the Supreme Court president and their mandatory retirement, at age 70, from three years to two, could be considered problematic.

MK Yaakov Katz (National Union ) has submitted a bill that would shorten from three years to two the minimum period of time between the swearing-in of the Supreme Court president and their mandatory retirement, at age 70. The draft law could be considered problematic, because it is designed to guarantee that a specific justice will become president of the court. Nevertheless the bill is appropriate, because it reinforces the principle of seniority in selecting the Supreme Court president.

It was the superfluous Tenure Law, initiated by former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, that determined the minimum term for the Supreme Court president. Before it was enacted, the longest-sitting justice became president when the current president turned 70. The determining factor was simple seniority. The length of the remaining term as president was irrelevant. Thus, former Justice Yitzhak Kahan served about 18 months as president of the Supreme Court, and did excellent work. During the same period Kahan also headed the state committee of inquiry into the Sabra and Chatila massacre of 1982. Had Friedmann's term law been in effect at the time, Kahan would have been ineligible to serve as Supreme Court president.

When the current president, Justice Dorit Beinisch, retires in February 2012, two years and eight months will remain to the term of the longest-sitting senior Justice, Asher Dan Grunis. Under the Tenure Law now in effect, he would be ineligible to serve as court president despite having the greatest seniority. Next in line is Justice Miriam Naor, who will become president if the current protocol is retained.

Katz wants Grunis to be chosen. It is possible that his motives are political, and he believes Grunis' views are closer to his own. That is an unacceptable motive; the appropriate position is that any Supreme Court justice is worthy of being president. But if Katz's bill is passed the minimum term to retirement will be shortened and Grunis will become president. That will strengthen the principle of seniority, which is essential to ensure the justices' independence. That is the main benefit of the path being proposed by Katz, the recognition of seniority as the rule by which the next Supreme Court president is selected. And if seniority is enshrined in law, that will be be a sublime moment for the elected officials in the Knesset.