update deskIsrael News

Supreme Court hearing on ‘reasonableness’ law kicks off

Israel's justice minister slammed the court for taking up the case, arguing that it has no legal grounds on which to do so.

Chief Justice of Israel's Supreme Court Esther Hayut at the hearing of the government's "reasonableness" law, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Chief Justice of Israel's Supreme Court Esther Hayut at the hearing of the government's "reasonableness" law, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, convened on Tuesday to consider petitions against the so-called “reasonableness” law, an amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary passed by the Knesset in July.

The hearing, three days before the start of the High Holidays, is the first time in the court’s 75-year history that all 15 justices have presided over a case.

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The amendment, passed on July 24 by all 64 lawmakers in the governing coalition, bars justices from using “reasonableness” as a justification for reversing decisions made by the cabinet, ministers and “other elected officials as set by law.”

Following its passing, NGOs immediately filed petitions asking the Supreme Court to strike it down. While the court scheduled a hearing, it did not issue an emergency injunction against the law as several of the petitioners had requested.

“We are ready. We will appear at the Supreme Court to defend Israeli democracy and do everything we can to stop the judicial coup,” the Movement for Quality Government’s Chairman Eliad Shraga said at the time. “We will continue to protest and fight everywhere and from every podium until the threat is removed.”

Movement for Quality Government’s Chairman Eliad Shraga, pictured right, at the hearing of the government’s “reasonableness” law, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90.

The court will hear arguments from eight petitioners against the law, representing an array of government watchdog and civil society organizations. Israeli Attorney-General Gali Baharav-Miara has also asked the court to strike down the law.

Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin issued a statement on Tuesday morning slamming the Supreme Court for taking up the case, arguing that it has no legal grounds on which to do so.

“Presidents and justices of the Supreme Court over the generations all agreed—the people is the sovereign, and its will is represented in Basic Laws legislated by the Knesset,” said Levin.

MK Simcha Rothman at the hearing of the government’s “reasonableness” law, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90.

“The court, whose justices elect themselves behind closed doors and without a protocol, is placing itself above the government, above the Knesset, above the people and above the law,” he continued.

“Until today, despite highly problematic judicial activism, there was at least one agreed basis—the court respected Basic Laws,” he added. “This is the basis that preserved democracy in Israel. The responsibility for preserving this joint basis lies with the court.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid also issued a statement ahead of the hearing, arguing that the issue isn’t a constitutional one because the amendment in question “isn’t a Basic Law and doesn’t even resemble a Basic Law.”

“This is an irresponsible document that someone wrote ‘Basic Law’ on, and they have since demanded it be treated as holy writ,” said Lapid.

Protesters outside the the hearing of the government’s “reasonableness” law, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem. Sept. 12, 2023. Photo by Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90.

“The High Court will this morning discuss a law that is a deviant and thuggish private member’s bill by [Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chairman] Simcha Rothman, which wasn’t even passed by the government, which was managed in a process that was violent, rushed, sloppy, boisterous and unrestrained, and which has nothing to do with Basic Laws,” he continued.

The Israeli Supreme Court has never struck down a Basic Law, a move that would be akin to the American Supreme Court striking down an amendment to the United States Constitution.

The court is expected to take weeks or even months to reach a decision on the matter.

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