Israel’s Supreme Court Delays Hearings on Judicial Overhaul Amid Attorney General’s Opposition

Israel’s Supreme Court has postponed the first of three crucial hearings regarding the legality of a judicial overhaul initiated by the far-right government led by Benjamin Netanyahu. This delay comes in response to the strong opposition expressed by the country’s attorney general.

For the past eight months, ever since the coalition assumed power, Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a close ally of Netanyahu, has consistently refused to convene the committee responsible for selecting the nation’s judges. This has led to numerous unfilled judicial positions across the country.

In an unusual turn of events, Attorney General Gail Baharav-Miara’s legal team will now present arguments opposing the counsel of the justice minister in court. Levin, who played a key role in shaping the overhaul, aims to modify the composition of the selection committee. This proposed change would grant Netanyahu’s far-right ruling coalition the ultimate authority in appointing judges, as part of a more extensive judicial reform proposed by Netanyahu’s government.

Before the Supreme Court’s decision to postpone, petitions challenging Levin’s refusal were scheduled for a hearing on Thursday. Under normal circumstances, experts point out that Levin’s position would typically be represented by the attorney general. However, given Baharav-Miara’s opposition to the overhaul and Levin’s stance, he requested the postponement to seek independent legal counsel.

Amichai Cohen, a constitutional law professor and senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, characterizes this situation as highly unusual. He notes that until the current government took office, it was a rare occurrence for the attorney general and the government to hold opposing positions. Cohen explains that typically, a dialogue leads to a unified stance.

The Supreme Court has rescheduled the hearing for September 19.

In a court filing submitted on Monday, Baharav-Miara argued that Levin’s actions had resulted in numerous vacant judgeships. According to the filing, if the selection committee isn’t convened by the end of the year, the country will have more than 53 vacant judgeships, representing over 5% of the national bench.

Levin has until Sunday to secure independent legal counsel and present his position to the Court.

This hearing is one of three pivotal cases that Israel’s Supreme Court will address this month concerning the legality of the judicial overhaul. The court’s rulings could potentially lead to a constitutional crisis if Netanyahu’s government chooses not to comply with the decisions.

The most prominent case is scheduled for September 12, during which the court will hear challenges to the coalition’s move in July to eliminate the “reasonableness standard.” This standard allows the Court to invalidate parliamentary decisions and appointments if they are deemed unreasonable.

Netanyahu’s coalition, predominantly composed of religious and ultranationalist parties, contends that non-elected judges in the country hold too much power and need to be reined in. Critics of the overhaul, representing a broad cross-section of Israeli society, argue that the plan threatens to dismantle the system of checks and balances and concentrate power in the hands of Netanyahu and his allies.

For over eight months, tens of thousands of Israelis have been protesting against the overhaul, marking one of the most sustained demonstrations in the country’s history.

The coalition argues that judges should not have the authority to overturn crucial decisions made by elected officials, while opponents claim that removing the reasonability standard could open the door to corruption and the improper appointment of unqualified individuals to significant positions.

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