Friday, October 28, 2011

A new generation of justices

Dr. Haim Shine

In November, the Judicial Appointments Committee will meet to select new judges for the Supreme Court, in place of those that have retired. At the start of the upcoming Gregorian calendar year, Supreme Court President Justice Dorit Beinish will also retire. One can certainly say that the new appointments process is a complete generational turnover in the Supreme Court. In essence, we are talking about the rise of a third generation of Supreme Court justices. The first generation of Supreme Court judges acted with judicial restraint based on the belief that the court should serve the state and its institutions. A young country was at the outset of its path, on the backdrop of a complex reality with respect to its security and economy. The second generation, led by former Supreme Court President Justice Aharon Barak operated with judicial activism under the banner phrase "everything is judiciable" in a state for all its citizens. This activism sought to educate Israeli society, in keeping with the post-modernist era, to apply the values of individual rights based on the judges' predictions for the future. Now the third generation ascends and crystallizes. In my opinion, this generation connects back to the first one, disconnected from the rule of the court (as opposed to the rule of law) via this internalization: The courts must provide fair and efficient services for citizens, rather than wasting their precious time re-educating Israeli society.

The Judicial Appointments Committee members, current Supreme Court justices, cabinet ministers, Knesset members and representatives of the Israeli Bar Association, are under tremendous pressure, under which they must not shame the tough, energetic lobbyists in the Knesset and its committees. Committee members must display stamina in the face of the many stakeholders interested in who the new judges will be. People with money and power, from the Right and the Left, activists and conservatives, will all be in attendance at this hot Mediterranean celebration, as if singer of the year was being chosen.

The considerations underlying the selection of Supreme Court justices in the early days of the state were, in many cases, based on extraneous and erroneous considerations; for example, their closeness to Mapai (precursor to the Labor party), religious and ethnic identity, personal relationships and whether their ideas conformed to the ideas of those in power. During the 25 years of Justice Barak's influence on the makeup of the Supreme Court, identification with his liberal values for the advancing and enlightened society were the only tickets to get in. Supreme Court judges typically enjoyed a unified sense of how they sought to shape Israeli society.

The hegemony of Supreme Court rulings in a progressive and enlightened society caused a constant decline in public trust in the court, which for many years was the main expression of Israeli cohesion. Supreme Court judges possess neither purse nor sword, only public trust. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that the new judges be chosen, first and foremost, based on their professional skills, disregarding their personal opinions, religious agendas, ethnicity and political values.

Political corruption, social violence and the crisis of values in Israeli society all require caution and responsibility in selecting Supreme Court justices. It should be based solely on criteria of suitability for this high office, regardless of personal history or obligation to particular sectors of society. Truly it is hard to disconnect from the personal dimension when making such decisions, but the public is allowed to expect that irrelevant considerations be pushed aside when choosing Supreme Court justices. Woe to the generation that judges its judges, as the price is ultimately paid by the public.

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