Supreme Court President Miriam Naor and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked told the Knesset’s law committee on Sunday that Justice Esther Hayut will be Naor’s successor.
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They reached agreement despite the dispute between Naor and Shaked over how to choose the court president. Of Shaked’s attempt to change the current seniority system, in which the longest-serving justice is chosen as next president, Naor said: “If it’s not broken, what’s to fix?”
Naor was the first to address the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, and asked to make it clear that Hayut will be the next court president.
“The justice minister has publicly stated that the next Supreme Court president will be Hayut,” Naor said. “I expect most of the Judicial Appointments Committee will vote for her.”
Naor added that she didn’t think this was the time to be dealing with the seniority issue. “It would have been best to hold that discussion – if at all – way in the past or in the future after Hayut is appointed,” she said, adding, “The discussion is one of principle, detached from personal issues.”
She expressed concern that if the seniority system were abolished, justices who are candidates for the court presidency would seek to find favor with politicians, noting, “The point that must concern all of us is how the rulings of Supreme Court justices will be perceived by the public if the justices are in a race for the president’s post.”
Shaked replied that she couldn’t believe this argument was being seriously put forward.
“This is the degree to which we degrade Supreme Court justices?” Shaked asked. “Supreme Court justices are independent, professional and rule based on the law and their consciences. I don’t believe a justice on the Supreme Court would issue a ruling that isn’t the truth in order to curry favor.”
The justice minister added that if the claim held water that the seniority method prevented judges from lobbying politicians, such lobbying would have been seen for positions in the lower courts.
“I don’t see struggles and attempts to influence those outside the judicial system in the process of appointing presidents to the magistrate’s and district courts,” Shaked said. “On the contrary, I see contenders who respect one another.”
Naor, meanwhile, rejected Shaked’s claim that the seniority system only existed in Israel. “There are countries where the judges themselves choose the president, without any intervention by outside officials, as in Denmark, Italy and France,” Naor said. “Politicizing the Supreme Court will undermine its independence, the separation of powers, and the ability of the court to protect civil rights in Israel.”
Shaked noted that Hayut, who is expected to serve as court president for six years, is “a professional judge, the only candidate, and I assume she will be chosen as president.”
She was critical of the fact that none of the other justices suggested themselves as candidates, however, saying that the Supreme Court president has to be “the most suitable person, from a leadership and administrative perspective,” and that the most senior person isn’t necessarily the best choice.
“No one would suggest that the longest-serving major general in the military be appointed chief of staff,” she added. “I feel as if my hands were tied.”
Israel Bar Association Chairman Efraim Nave said the two bar association representatives on the Judicial Appointments Committee would vote for Hayut. However, he agreed with Shaked that the current system is problematic, since it essentially means court presidents are chosen 20 years in advance. He suggested that the committee be allowed to choose from among the three longest-serving justices.