Livni's Chance to Repair the Damage

As Israel's justice minister, two tests await Livni: Appointing a new attorney general and replacing two Supreme Court judges.

The appointment of Tzipi Livni as justice minister raises some concerns. On the one hand, Livni follows Justice Ministers Yaakov Neeman and Daniel Friedmann, both of whom were hostile to an independent judiciary and prosecution. Friedmann attacked the law enforcement system at every opportunity, while Neeman undermined it. In contrast to her predecessors, Livni isn't coming to settle any scores.

But her very close relationship with Haim Ramon cannot be forgotten. Ramon sees the state prosecution as being responsible for his political demise, and he was the one who pressed then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to give Friedmann the justice portfolio. As foreign minister in the Olmert government, Livni didn't do much to frustrate Friedmann's initiatives.

Meanwhile, as justice minister in the Sharon government, she had a public confrontation with then-Supreme Court President Aharon Barak over the nomination of Prof. Ruth Gavison to the High Court. Livni paralyzed the work of the Judicial Appointments Committee in an effort to impose a nominee on Barak that he didn't want. The justice minister is forbidden to act that way; his or her obligation is to coordinate and reach understandings with the court president via a discrete dialogue.

The rule of law was not a central issue on the Hatnuah party platform. Nevertheless, Livni now has an opportunity to repair the damage wreaked by her two predecessors as well to correct mistakes she made during her previous stint in the position. Since she will be chairman of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, she will be able to foil anti-democratic legislative proposals, a prime characteristic of the last Knesset, some of which were initiated by and had the support of MKs from Kadima, which she headed.

Awaiting the new justice minister are several important decisions relating to the robustness of the rule of law. Outgoing minister Neeman's main legacy is a weakened prosecution, an attorney general perceived as preferring to avoid confrontation, and deceitful conduct toward the judicial system. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein will likely end his term on Livni's watch, and she will have to avoid appointing a replacement who is a passive, defense attorney type. State Attorney Moshe Lador will be stepping down even sooner; while his successor will emerge from a search committee, Livni can set the tone that will influence the choice. An important test for her will be whether she can restore the stature of the state prosecution, which has been under constant attack.

In two years, Supreme Court President Asher Grunis and Justice Edna Arbel will be retiring. Preserving the custom of seniority in choosing the next court president and coming to understandings with the court president on appointments of additional justices will be another important test of Livni's term.