Justice Minister Sa'ar Says Still No Agreement Over Appointment of Supreme Court Justices

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Gideon Sa'ar in a New Hope party meeting in November.
Gideon Sa'ar in a New Hope party meeting in November. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Behind closed doors, around a large wooden table in one of the offices of the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, the 24 candidates for the bench recently appeared before the Judicial Selection Committee. Four will be chosen to serve on the Supreme Court. The identity of the new justices is expected to be announced on Tuesday.

“I must be sincere and say that at the moment there is no agreement, and I’m not sure that any justices will be selected on Tuesday," said Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar. "I’ll be very glad when we reach an agreement. So far, despite talks with everyone on the committee, we have not done so. There will not be appointments at any cost.” 

The interviews took place over two days, with half the candidates being interviewed on each day. On the face of it, this is an essential part of the selection process; it is the only opportunity for the nine committee members to meet the candidates face to face to assess them, because Supreme Court President Esther Hayut has forbidden the candidates from meeting with them in person before the formal interviews.

However, conversations with some committee members and some of the candidates reveal that they don’t put much stock in the selection process. “This is an almost fictive phase, intended to fulfill the obligation,” an individual familiar with the work of the committee told Haaretz. “In fact, the interviews have no impact on the appointments, which are decided in deals put together by members of the committee outside the formal meetings.”

The importance of the interviews can be seen by the amount of time devoted to each candidate – he or she has 20 minutes to introduce themselves and answer questions. Some of the interviews take a little longer, while some only last 15 minutes.

One committee member said: “Before the interview you receive a binder with the whole background of the candidates and their verdicts, if they were judges. But when there are nine interviews and 15 minutes to ask questions, you can’t even cover a fifth of the issues you’re interested in.”

A candidate said his interview was “a bit strange,” adding: “They asked me questions about legislation and rulings that would be asked of a law clerk or a paralegal, not a person in line for a seat on the Supreme Court.”

Another source pointed out a different problem: “The meetings don’t include open and sincere dialogue with the candidates, because of the committee’s internal politics. The candidates also play their cards close to their chest, because they know that what they say can harm them. In one of the interviews someone asked a question about the candidate’s worldview, and the candidate wanted to answer, but one of the judges on the committee was uncomfortable with the question, so he silenced him. In a situation like that it’s hard to really find out everything you want and really judge the character of the candidates.”

The two people with the greatest influence on the selection of justices are Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who heads the committee, and Hayut. According to sources, they were relatively passive during the interviews. Hayut, Sa’ar and Justice Isaac Amit sat to the side. “They listened closely to what was said, but they hardly spoke or asked questions,” said one source.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, who is also on the committee, was present only briefly during the first day of interviews, and was absent on the second day. During the previous selection of new Supreme Court justices in October, Shaked was justice minister and committee chairwoman. People in her inner circle said that on the first day of interviews, she left to answer reporters’ questions and on the second day she had to deal with urgent matters. Another source suggested that Shaked had not attended the interviews “simply because she knows they don’t have a lot of significance. She knows most of the candidates and she knows that most things are decided outside and it’s a waste of valuable time.”

Sa’ar and Hayut have been working hard over the past few days to come to agreement over the choice of the four new justices, and to persuade the rest of the committee. If they don’t succeed, at first replacements may be chosen only for Justices Menahem Mazuz and Hanan Melcer, who have already retired. Only a few weeks or months later will two more justices be selected to replace Justices George Karra and Neal Hendel, who will retire next year. Another possibility is that they will not be able to come to an agreement this week, in which case the announcement of the new justices will be postponed.

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