New Law Overhauls How Court Justices Picked

The Knesset yesterday passed the second and third readings of a controversial bill to overhaul the way Supreme Court judges are appointed.

Likud member Gideon Sa'ar initiated the law to replace the current simple majority needed for the judges appointments committee to name Supreme Court judges, with one variant requiring seven out of nine members to do so.

The committee consists of nine members. Until now a Supreme Court judge can be appointed with a simple majority, like any other judge. Since the three Supreme Court representatives on the committee almost always vote in a bloc, their vote carries extra weight.

The new law requires a majority of more than 70 percent for a Supreme Court judge's appointment - either seven out of nine or six out of eight panel members, if one is absent. This means that the panel's near complete agreement would be needed for judges to be appointed. As a result, only non-controversial candidates would get through, or those receiving the help of political deals.

Sa'ar's bill passed a preliminary reading at the beginning of the Knesset's summer session and advanced swiftly with little public debate. The bill is a compromise between the Supreme Court's supporters, who advocate adhering to the existing method, and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and his supporters, who want to increase politicians' influence on the panel.

Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch did not object to the bill. Friedmann backed it, arguing that "it is inconceivable that a Supreme Court judge is appointed haphazardly on one vote only."

Sa'ar dubbed his proposal "the third way." He says the law will require dialogue instead of the current controversy.

Law Professor Mordechai Kremnitzer warned that the new bill would paralyze the appointments committee and is "a recipe to paralyze the Supreme Court."