The Crucial Legacy of Israel's Outgoing Court President

Outgoing Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch will be remembered as a defender of fundamental rights and oversight of government.

It was no coincidence that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch chose to retire by ruling unconstitutional a provision denying supplemental income benefits to people who own or have use of a car. She ruled that the law violated people's right to a minimum existence with dignity - a decision that reflected her worldview that the protection of human rights guarantees democratic government.

Beinisch was appointed to the Supreme Court about 15 years ago following the so-called Constitutional Revolution, in which the adoption of Basic Laws enshrined human rights. She will be remembered as a defender of fundamental rights and oversight of government. Under her leadership, the High Court of Justice supervised the construction of the West Bank separation fence and considered every land expropriation. The Beinisch court also ruled against the privatization of prisons and required the state to protect schools in Sderot from rockets shot from Gaza.

Dorit Beinisch - Olivier Fittousi - 05012012
Olivier Fittousi

When it came to criminal law, Beinisch became a stern critic of law-enforcement officials. In the Rafael Issacharoff case, she adopted the rule allowing courts to exclude evidence illegally obtained by the police. In a minority opinion in the Moshe Katsav case, she argued in favor of annulling a plea deal with the former president so he could stand trial. He ultimately did.

Her time on the bench appears to have been based on Israel's ethos as a Jewish and democratic state, committed to a constant balancing of individual and collective rights. "In my view as a judge, the most difficult and agonizing rulings were the rulings dealing with the fate of the individual ... when the judge must remember that a person whose fate will be affected by that decision for years stands behind every court case," she said yesterday.

Beinisch tried to maintain a balance between the general and the specific during a period when collective rights became elusive and political and social polarization intensified. Against that backdrop, she insisted on according "practical significance to the Declaration of Independence and to the Jewish and individual rights at the foundations of our system," as she stated yesterday. This should be appreciated.

Her personal imprint is also reflected in the appointment of more than 200 judges, about a third of the judiciary, particularly the bloc of liberal justices on the Supreme Court. This should help counterbalance the court's incoming conservative president, Asher Dan Grunis.