In Win for Justice Minister, Israel Appoints U.S. Professor as Supreme Court Judge

Prof. Stein chosen despite criticism he hasn't lived in Israel for past 15 years ■ Judge Ofer Grosskopf granted second Supreme Court appointment

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.
אורן בן חקון

Prof. Alex Stein and Judge Ofer Grosskopf were chosen as the two new Supreme Court justices by the judicial Appointments Committee on Thursday evening.

Stein, 60, was the candidate backed by Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, who chairs the committee, and he was chosen despite criticism that he has not lived in Israel for the past 15 years. Stein is a professor at Brooklyn Law School in New York.

Grosskopf is now a judge of the Tel Aviv District Court and was chosen despite his relatively young age, 49. A number of committee members were hesitant to choose him because he would serve on the Supreme Court for a long time, almost 22 years. Israeli judges have a mandatory retirement age of 70.

The newly appointed Supreme Court justice, Prof. Alex Stein as pictured on January 11, 2018.
Twitter/ Screenshot

In addition, until today the president of the Supreme Court has always been chosen based on seniority, and if this practice continues it means Grosskopf will become the chief justice in 2035. But a large number of politicians are now pushing to change this practice.

Grosskopf is considered to be a legal genius with a liberal legal worldview. He is an expert in economic law and former Justice Minister Daniel Friedman is considered to be his mentor.

Grosskopf is expected to replace justice Yoram Danziger, who is leaving the bench at the end of the month. Stein will replace justice Uri Shoham, who is scheduled to retire in August. Stein will be returning to live in Israel.

The committee debated the Supreme Court appointments for seven hours. The judges on the committee insisted on Grosskopf’s appointment, while the politicians, including Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, backed Shaul Shohat, a judge on the Tel Aviv District Court, over Grosskopf. Stein was chosen unanimously while Grosskopf received the votes of eight of the nine committee members, with Kahlon voting for Shohat.  

The committee also made a number of lower court appointments on Thursday.

The battle over the new justices reflects an ideological fight over the character of the Supreme Court between judicial conservatism and activism.

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut said the new appointees have impressive professional reputations. “One is an excellent judge and an academic in the past and the other is a long-time and respected academic in Israel and the world.”

Shaked said two excellent candidates were chosen, who have “unique and diverse cultural backgrounds.” She said one of her main goals when she took office was to make the Supreme Court more diverse.

Stein was previously a professor of law at Yeshiva University’s Cardozo Law School. He is an expert on the laws of evidence. In his legal writing, he has not addressed matters of public law and as a practical matter has not been writing about Israeli law for the past 15 years, which prompted questions about his suitability as a candidate for Israeli Supreme Court justice.

Stein has been a visiting faculty member at a number of American law schools, including Yale.

Shaked called Stein a conservative, although this is not apparent from his legal writing. Those close to him describe him as a “legal positivist,” an approach that views law as a science that supports limiting the law and judicial activity to what is outlined in written laws and regulations rather than being guided by values.

Danziger is considered the head of the liberal camp on the Supreme Court and Grosskopf’s appointment is expected to fill the empty space he leaves behind. Stein is expected to be one of the more conservative members of the court.