‘The gun is on the table’: Lapid slams justice minister for threatening to disobey court ruling

“We legislated and implemented without fear the mandate that the public gave us … We will have a method for appointing judges that is fair, just and includes everyone,” Levin said.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin drew heavy criticism from opposition leaders after threatening to disobey a High Court ruling regarding the appointment of judges, a key part of the governing coalition’s deeply controversial judicial reforms.

During a Monday night television interview, Levin was asked about the possibility of the High Court striking down legislation that would automatically give the governing coalition the ability to appoint two Supreme Court justices per Knesset term without opposition approval.

Levin, the government’s point man on the legal overhaul, said that such a ruling would be “crossing a red line, and we certainly will not accept it.”

“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.

He was referring to a proposal by MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee first raised on Sunday.

Rothman suggested that the government choose the first two justices to fill vacancies during a Knesset’s term, by a simple majority of the selection committee’s 11 members. Additional judicial appointments during that Knesset’s term would require the support of an opposition lawmaker and judge sitting on the selection committee.

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Opposition members of the committee fumed that Rothman gave them less than 12 hours of notice to formulate objections. The government is pressing to complete the passage of the changes to the judicial appointments process ahead of the Knesset’s Passover recess, which begins April 2.

Responding to Levin’s remarks, opposition leader Yair Lapid said, “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?”

National Unity MK Gideon Saar, Levin’s predecessor as justice minister said, “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 [former prime minister] Menachem Begin’s path. A government that does not respect a court ruling loses its legitimacy.”

Likud issued a statement on Tuesday saying, “The absurd discussion of a constitutional crisis only illustrates how necessary the legal reform is to restore the proper balance between the authorities. The High Court has no authority or reason to intervene in an amendment to the basic law that determines how the judges will be appointed, just as it did not intervene in the past when the law was amended a while ago.”

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But in one crack in the coalition’s unity, Minister of Economy Nir Barkat of Likud said that if the Supreme Court strikes down the new appointment process, “I will respect the decision.”

The governing coalition’s judicial reforms are deeply controversial. Legislation advancing through the Knesset would primarily alter the way judges are appointed and removed, give the Knesset the ability to override certain High Court rulings, restrict the ability of judges to apply standards of “reasonableness,” and change the way legal advisors are appointed to government ministries.

Supporters of the legal overhaul say they want to end years of judicial overreach while opponents describe the proposals as anti-democratic.