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2/29/12: Will Israel’s Supreme Court Tilt Right Under New Chief?


Judge Asher Grunis, new president of Israel's Supreme Court, is congradulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu at inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

Judge Asher Grunis, new president of Israel's Supreme Court, is congradulated by Prime Minister Netanyahu at inauguration ceremony on Tuesday.

“Grunis undoubtedly will be the first among equals,” said Aviad Hacohen, dean of the Sha’arei Mishpat Academic College in Hod HaSharon. “In theory he can pick more conservative justices to make up the panels that rule on sensitive cases, but he might draw fire from critics. Also, there is a tradition that the most senior justices preside over the most difficult or sensitive cases, regardless of their ideological leaning.”

Even if Grunis manages to introduce more judicial restraint to the court, which he has served on since 2003, some legislators say they will not be satisfied until more drastic reforms are implemented.

“Grunis’s appointment goes some way toward fixing an injustice,” said Yariv Levin, a Likud Knesset member who is spearheading the Supreme Court reform campaign. “But it will be impossible to bring about a real change as long as Supreme Court justices are chosen the way they are.”

Justices are chosen through a nine-member Judges Selection Committee that is chaired by the justice minister and comprised of one Cabinet member, three sitting justices including the president, two Bar Association delegates – who have tended to share the judicial activist ideology of the justices – and two Knesset members.

“Lawmakers pushing for a change in the appointment process do not just want to curb judicial activism,” Medina said. “They want to free themselves of the constraints of liberal democracy and human rights as championed by the Supreme Court.”

Likud’s Levin says he would like to see more consideration given in Supreme Court rulings to the fact that Israel is a Jewish state and less weight to the promotion of universalistic values such as human rights.

“…[T]his process will take time,” Levin said. “It might not happen in this government. But if present trends continue, in the next elections the right will become even stronger while the opposition will be weakened. The democratically elected Knesset will be the one that will choose Supreme Court Justices in an open, transparent process. And these justices will hold opinions that more accurately reflect those of the majority.”

(JTA)

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The Supreme Court’s interventionist approach was pioneered by Aharon Barak, who served as the court’s president from 1995 till 2006. Dorit Beinisch, who is retiring from the court this week after serving as president since her mentor’s retirement, upheld the tradition of judicial activism, keeping the court at the center of Israeli public debate and making it a lightning rod for Orthodox and right-wing critics. That could change as Beinisch is replaced by Asher Grunis, a conservative justice who has made a name for himself as a supporter of judicial restraint.

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