Override clause to rein in Supreme Court back on Knesset agenda?

Likud MKs consider supporting the opposition bill, even though it would break coalition discipline and anger Blue and White.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

Citing a promise made to supporters, coalition head Miki Zohar said Saturday that he wants to back an opposition-led bill that could lead to another crisis with the Likud’s junior partner in the government.

“I find it hard to see us opposing the Override Clause,” Zohar told Israel Hayom of the bill tabled for an initial reading this week by Ayelet Shaked and others from the Yemina party.

“I’m going to recommend to the prime minister to support it. It is in line with [our] ideology and it’s what we promised the voters. It would be very hard for us not to fulfill what our voters expect from us,” he said.

In June 2018, the Likud-led Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved a similar bill after getting tired of the High Court repeatedly striking down laws that would allow the deportation of illegal African migrants. Deporting the illegals, who number between 45,000 and 60,000, enjoys wide public support.

The 2018 bill was framed as an amendment to a Basic Law, which would have made it immune to judicial review. However, the bill never came to the Knesset for a vote.

Reforming the judiciary came up again last year, during the transitional government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That plan had many additional proposals, such as revoking the ability of those who have no standing to bring a case to the court.

In Israel, it’s possible to bring a case whether or not you’re an injured party. There is nothing comparable in other Western countries.

The innovation was introduced by then-Supreme Court President Aharon Barak in the 1980s, who is credited, or blamed, for the activism of today’s court.

Considering that Blue and White has opposed any perceived threat to the power of the judicial system, such Likud support would add another flashpoint to the already acrimonious relationship between the coalition partners.

Just last week, the two parties had agreed not to advance any legislation that was not directly connected to the countrywide crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Shaked said the chance to finally establish a proper relationship between the courts and the Knesset could not be missed.

“This is the first Knesset that has 61 MKs who support the Override Clause, in contrast to the past where there was no majority to approve the change,” she said.

“This may be a one-time opportunity that needs to be exploited. Resolving the relationship between the judicial and legislative branches is a must, especially at a time when the public’s trust in the system has deteriorated,” she said.

Shaked’s bill would give the Knesset the ability to overturn the Supreme Court’s nullification of a law if a majority of 61 MKs voted for it. The bill would also severely curtail the court’s ability to overturn a law in the first place.

It would limit judicial review to laws enacted in contravention of correct Knesset procedure. And even in those cases, it would require a two-thirds majority of a panel of at least 11 justices to approve the revocation of the new legislation. Today, only a simple majority of judges is necessary, and it doesn’t have to sit in such an expanded panel to do so.

While left-wing opposition to such weakening of the courts is a given, ostensibly right-wing Israel Beiteinu head Avigdor Liberman declared Sunday that his faction will also oppose the bill.

“It is a distraction from the main thing,” he told Israel Radio’s Reshet Bet, which is the economy. “The big parties are preventing [the economy] from opening for no reason,” he said, referring to the weekend shutdowns of malls and other places of business.