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Judicial reform: Override clause passes first Knesset reading

The bill, approved by 61-52, allows parliament to preemptively immunize laws against judicial review.

The Knesset Assembly Hall, March 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
The Knesset Assembly Hall, March 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Israel’s coalition took an important step toward realizing its judicial reform plan on Tuesday, with a key bill passing the first of three votes needed to become law.

The bill, an amendment to Israel’s Basic Law: The Judiciary known as the “override clause,” passed by 61-52 at 3 a.m., following an hours-long opposition filibuster.

The proposed legislation allows a simple majority of 61 Knesset members to preemptively render laws immune to judicial review, even those that violate the “basic laws” comprising Israel’s quasi-constitution. Any law struck down by the Supreme Court could also be re-legislated by the same 61-MK majority. A law’s immunity to judicial review would expire a year after the Knesset that implemented it dissolved, but could be renewed indefinitely by subsequent governments.

The bill also constrains the court’s oversight of laws not protected from judicial review, requiring 12 of the 15 justices to strike down a law and limiting the laws subject to review to those with clear procedural violations.

The bill now goes back to the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee for revisions before its second and final readings.

On Monday, the Knesset passed in first reading another of the coalition’s priority bills, which stipulates that a prime minister can only be declared unfit to serve due to physical or mental incompetence.

The Special Committee on Amendments to Basic Law: The Government, chaired by Likud MK Ofir Katz, voted 9-6 to approve the bill, called the “fortification law,” after a heated debate.

“In a democracy, those who put us here, those who determined that each of us will sit in the important chairs— are the citizens of the State of Israel. Only they put us here,” said Katz, who initiated the bill, before the vote.

“There is a clique here, an elite, but in the elections every vote is equal, both those with less education and those with more, those in a senior position or less. We see that the people want [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, so they [his political opponents] try other ways to topple him. We will not tolerate this … We are making an important amendment here. All the parties stated that the matter of fortifications needs to be explained, and this is what we are doing. This is a law for all future prime ministers. You shout ‘democracy,’ this is the law to strengthen democracy,” he continued.

Likud MK Yuli Edelstein was notably absent from both votes.

National Unity Party chairman Benny Gantz slammed Tuesday’s vote, saying that Israelis would end up paying a heavy price if the amendment passed into law.

“This law is a crooked way to solve a significant challenge,” said Gantz. “They are staining the law book by erasing judicial review for the purpose of a specific law. They are giving unlimited power to the majority over the ordinary citizen—who will pay a big price,” he continued.

During a meeting on Monday, opposition leaders declared that they would boycott future parliamentary votes on the judicial reform bills.

Opposition leader and Yesh Atid Party chairman Yair Lapid, National Unity Party Chairman Benny Gantz, Yisrael Beiteinu Party head Avigdor Liberman and Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli took part in the meeting.

Also on Monday, the Knesset also approved in first reading the Disengagement Plan Implementation Bill (Amendment – Repealing Evacuation Clauses), 2022. The proposed legislation seeks to annul clauses of the 2005 Disengagement Plan Implementation Law that bar Israeli citizens entering or living in northern Samaria. The bill passed by a vote of 40 to 17.

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