Israel’s new gov’t proposes controversial ‘override clause’ to limit ‘undemocratic’ judicial power

Justice Minister Yariv Levin outlines 4 reforms to fix Israel’s “undemocratic” judicial system.

By World Israel News Staff

Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday evening announced the government’s controversial plan to overhaul the legal system that would include exerting political control over Israel’s leftwing judiciary.

“As someone who grew up on Menachem Begin’s knees, I believe that there are judges in Jerusalem,” Levin said, referencing Israel’s first conservative prime minister from the late 1970s.

“But there is also a Knesset and a government in Jerusalem. The constitutional revolution of the judicial system has degraded trust in the system to a dangerous low, and damaged democracy and governance. People we did not elect decide for us. It is time to act,” said Levin.

Levin proposed four reforms: The first would see the Justice Minister electing two public representatives to the 9-member committee that elects the judges as well as establishing a public hearing for candidates.

“There will no longer be a situation whereby judges elect themselves in back rooms with no oversight,” he said.

The second reform would see an “override clause” being set up to allowing the Knesset to re-legislate laws that the Supreme Court had struck down, pending a 61-MK majority.

“There will be no more striking down of Knesset laws without authority,” he said.

He added a caveat that the Knesset would be barred from reviving legislation that was struck down by all 15 of the court’s judges.

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The third reform is barring the so-called “reasonableness measure” by which the Supreme Court can strike down any law or government action it deems “unreasonable.”

“There’s no such thing as a reasonableness test,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said that the return of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as a government minister, despite his previous convictions, was “unreasonable in the extreme.” Her remarks came a day before a High Court hearing on the matter.

The final reform that Levin presented was for ministers to be allowed to appoint their own legal advisors, and not rely on those appointed by the Justice Ministry.

Minister Levin called the reforms “balanced” and expressed hope that it would vastly improve the current system, which he said gives unelected officials too much power and is undemocratic.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid blasted the reforms and called the government “a gang of criminals.”

“The day before the court hearing on the Deri Law, the government put a loaded gun on the table,” he said.

“What Yariv Levin presented today is not a legal reform, it is a threat. They threaten to destroy the entire constitutional structure of the State of Israel,” Lapid said, vowing to cancel the reforms when he returned to government.

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Professor Eugene Kontorovich, director of International Law at the Jerusalem-based Kohelet Policy Forum, welcomed the reforms.

“The proposed reforms are a modest step at creating the smallest semblance of checks and balances in Israel. Currently the Supreme Court is the only branch without clear checks on it – while wielding vastly more power than the its US counterpart,” he said.

Kontorovich charged the Supreme Court with “writ[ing] its own constitution and pick[ing] its own members.”

Kontorovich, who has advocated for judicial reform in Israel for over decade, said that having democratically-elected representatives pick justices is “uncontroversial” in the U.S., as is the “legislature’s ability to require expanded panels for striking down laws.”

“Implementing what is standard practice in America can’t be the end of democracy in Israel,” he concluded.