Israel’s Judicial Reform

Israel has taken a step toward limiting the governing power and authority of its Supreme Court. Prior to last Monday’s vote, Israel’s highest court could blithely strike down Knesset-enacted statutes based on nothing more concrete or measurable than the personal opinions of what constituted the statute’s “reasonableness” in the minds of the judges constituting the Court’s majority in any particular case. If those judges didn’t like the statute, they could cry “unreasonable,” and strike it.

This reform law will restrict

the power of the country’s top court and hand more control to lawmakers. It aims to restrict the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down government or executive decisions on the basis of reasonability…. Supporters say the reasonableness standard is too nebulous and allows the courts to overrule the will of elected officials for political purposes.

In fine, the new law requires the Supreme Court to have a far more specific and publicly measurable rationale for striking a law. Otherwise, the matter is returned to the representatives of the Israeli people, the Knesset, and to the people themselves. In particular, if the people disagree with the law, they can fire their Knesset representative(s) at the next election and replace those persons with representatives who will make the adjustments or recissions the people demand. The people have no such possibility with the Supreme Court; those worthies, once selected, are in office until age 70. The people making the ultimate decisions, rather than unaccountable office holders doing so, is the stuff of democracy, whether popular or republican.

Critics of the new law claim that it’s an attack on democracy. One citizen:

We refuse to accept this. It is clear to us all that there is no alternative. We either escalate or we leave the country.

And Yair Lapid, an opposition leader:

This is the destruction of Israeli democracy[.]

That’s democratic opposition? No, that’s opposition to democracy. It’s disappointing that the “opposition” in Israel is so opposed to the idea of the people’s representatives—and the people themselves through their democratically selected representatives—having the primary say in Israel’s laws. It’s also illustrative of the opposition’s ideology that they’re so opposed to that degree of democracy.

The kerfuffle also is illustrative of the problems stemming from not having an actual, written-down constitution to which anyone—government official (judge, member of the Knesset, Prime Minister) or private citizen—can point and say, “This is what our constitution requires,” and engage in open and transparent (to coin a phrase) debate concerning what a law or a proposed law says, rather than depending on cloistered judges’ obscure and too often limited explanations that are stripped of the reasonings and closed-chambered debates conducted as the Court arrives at its rulings.

One thought on “Israel’s Judicial Reform

  1. Not to mention the justice nomination process – a retiring justice nominates his/her own replacement, thus perpetuating the extant political attitudes.

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