Panel Paves Way for Asher Dan Grunis to Become Chief Justice

Committee approves 'Grunis' bill with a vote of three in favor; bill abolishes rule that to become Supreme Court president, a justice must have at least three years left to serve before mandatory retirement age of 70.

The Knesset's Constitution Committee yesterday submitted the so-called "Grunis bill" for its second and third Knesset readings, paving the way for Justice Asher Dan Grunis to become Supreme Court president.

The committee approved the bill with a vote of three in favor - committee chair David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), the bill's sponsor MK Yaakov Katz (National Union ) and MK Zeev Elkin (Likud) - and two against: MKs Shlomo Molla and Doron Avital (Kadima).

The bill abolishes the rule that to become Supreme Court president, a justice must have at least three years left to serve before hitting the mandatory retirement age of 70. It is essentially designed to guarantee that Grunis will be the next president.

Grunis is seen as a conservative judge who mostly refrains from intervening in decisions made by the executive and legislative branches, and is thus popular with right-wing politicians. But when Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch retires at the end of February 2012, Grunis will be five weeks short of three years from retirement.

Katz's original bill would have shortened the requisite term to two years. Requiring a three-year minimum tenure "reduces the number of candidates" for the president's post, he wrote in the bill's explanatory notes.

But due to objections raised in the cabinet, it was finally decided to cancel the time limit on Supreme Court presidents' tenure altogether and return the situation to what it was before former Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann introduced the three-year rule.

Katz stressed at yesterday's committee session that the bill does not revoke the seniority principle, under which the longest-serving justice is traditionally appointed president; it merely rectifies the situation in which a worthy candidate such as Grunis could not become court president because he had a few weeks less than three years left to serve.

The Judicial Appointments Committee, which will choose the next Supreme Court president, is expected to confirm Grunis without difficulty.