Israel’s High Court of Justice on Thursday rejected a request to recuse Court President Esther Hayut from hearing petitions against the “reasonableness” law.
Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman Simcha Rothman on Monday submitted the petition to disqualify Hayut.
The Religious Zionism Party lawmaker argued that Hayut is biased on the matter, as evidenced by a speech she delivered in January in which she sharply criticized the ruling coalition’s judicial reform program.
“Anyone who reads the speech in its entirety will come to the clear conclusion that the opinion of the honorable Supreme Court president, Esther Hayut, is completely ‘locked in,’” Rothman said.
Supreme Court Vice President Uzi Vogelman on Thursday rejected Rothman’s argument, saying that Hayut was specifically referring to the judicial reform initiative proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Jan. 4 and not the “reasonableness” law. Vogelman said that Hayut was looking at the issue theoretically, similar to an academic.
The outgoing court president, during an address at a conference of the Israeli Association of Public Law, said, “This is an unbridled attack on the judicial system, as if it were an enemy that must be attacked and subdued.
“This is a plan to crush the justice system. It is designed to deal a fatal blow to the independence of the judiciary and silence it,” the judge continued.
If the judicial reform plans are seen through, “the 75th anniversary of Israel’s independence will be remembered as the year in which the country’s democratic identity was dealt a fatal blow,” Hayut said.
Hayut will reach the mandatory retirement age for judges of 70 on Oct. 26, but judges can continue to rule on cases they started before that time.
On July 24, all 64 lawmakers in the governing coalition voted into law a bill to restrict judges’ use of the “reasonableness” standard. The amendment to Basic Law: The Judiciary bars “reasonableness” as a justification for judges to reverse decisions made by the Cabinet, ministers and “other elected officials as set by law.”
NGOs immediately filed petitions asking the Supreme Court, sitting as the High Court of Justice, to strike down the law. While the court scheduled a hearing, it has not gone as far as to 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.”
The hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Sept. 12, three days before the start of the High Holidays. It will be the first time in the court’s 75-year history that all 15 justices will preside over a case.