“If the justice minister refuses to obey the law, why should the citizens obey the government,” opposition head Yair Lapid argued.
.Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a discussion and a vote on the government’s judicial overhaul plans in the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2023 / (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH90)
If the High Court of Justice strikes down the bill to change the makeup of the Judicial Appointment Committee which gives the coalition the ability to appoint two justices per term to the High Court without the opposition’s approval, Justice Minister Yariv Levin will not respect the ruling, Levin said in an interview on Channel 14 on Monday night, soon after the Likud decided to support the bill and pass it before the Knesset recesses on April 2.
Such a ruling would be “crossing a red line and we certainly will not accept it,” Levin said.
“We legislated and implemented without fear the mandate that the public gave us … this democratic resolution will be respected, and we will have a method for appointing judges that is fair, just and includes everyone,” Levin said.
Opposition leader MK Yair Lapid responded soon after, “This is it, the masks have come down. The gun is on the table. The real prime minister Yariv Levin is bringing us into complete chaos and a constitutional crisis with no return. If the justice minister calls on the government not to obey the law, why should the citizens of Israel obey the government?”
Previous justice minister, National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar, said that “Levin’s threat against the court crosses a red line. It is unprecedented that the justice minister says in advance that he will not respect a ruling that is not to his liking. The complete opposite of Menahem Begin’s path. A government that does not respect a court ruling loses its legitimacy,” Sa’ar said.
Benjamin Netanyahu with Justice Minister Yariv Levin during a discussion and a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on March 6, 2023 (credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90/Reuters)
Likud: High Court has no reason to intervene
The Likud put out a statement on Tuesday.
“The absurd discussion about constitutional crisis only emphasizes how necessary the judicial reform is in order to return the proper balance to the government branches.
Economy Minister Nir Barkat said on Tuesday that while he supported the bill, “I do not support in any way blindly walking into a constitutional crisis in Israel.”
If the High Court strikes down the bill, Barkat said he will respect the ruling to the letter.
“I will not lend my vote or hand to chaos in which the citizens of Israel lose faith in the government and judicial system simultaneously,” he said.
According to the new proposal, which was first presented by Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman MK Simcha Rothman on Sunday evening, adapted by all of the coalition leaders late Sunday night and approved by the Likud and Religious Zionist Party in faction votes on Monday, the Judicial Appointments Committee will include 11 members instead of the current nine, while six out of the eleven will come from coalition parties – three ministers and three Knesset members.
The remaining five are two opposition Knesset members and three judges, one of whom is the Chief Justice.
For appointments to the High Court, the other two justices would also be High Court judges, but for lower courts, the two would be replaced by a district court president and a magistrate’s court president. Appointments for lower courts require a majority of seven out of eleven, but High Court appointments would require a simple majority of six.
This gives the coalition an automatic majority, but the coalition will only be able to choose two High Court Justices per term without the approval of the opposition. A third appointment in a given Knesset term requires the approval of an opposition MK, and a fourth appointment also requires the approval of one of the judges.
According to Israeli Law, High Court judges retire automatically when they turn 70. Two judges, Chief Justice Esther Hayut and Justice Anat Baron, are scheduled to retire in October. The coalition will thus control the appointments to both vacancies. The following vacancy is scheduled a year later, in October 2024.