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Knesset Justice panel chair to propose new, tougher judicial reform bill

MK Simcha Rothman’s proposed legislation goes even farther than that put forward by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, and as a “private bill” does not require review by the attorney general.

MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, Jan. 18, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Knesset member Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism Party) on Wednesday revealed his own legal reform bill, which would go even farther than the legislation proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, Channel 12 reported Tuesday.

Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, is proposing changes that, taken as a whole, would make it even more difficult for Israel’s Supreme Court to overturn laws than would Levin’s bill, according to the report.

First, Rothman’s bill seeks to strengthen the influence of elected officials in the Judicial Selection Committee. While Rothman’s proposal resembles Levin’s with regard to the composition of the committee, it gives the government the power to choose two judges on the panel.

Rothman’s plan would also require a unanimous decision of all 15 justices to cancel Knesset laws, while Levin’s proposal allows the court to overturn legislation by a majority vote of 12 of 15.

Also, in Rothman’s version, judges would only be able to overturn legislation that contradicts “entrenched clauses” of the country’s Basic Laws. Entrenched clauses have special status, requiring a supermajority or referendum to overturn.

However, Rothman’s plan is more lenient than Levin’s in at least one respect: It allows “reasonableness” as a legal justification for court rulings, where Levin’s calls for an outright ban of such rulings. Rothman’s proposal does render “lack of reasonableness” impermissible when the court is reviewing Knesset legislation, however.

Rothman is putting forward his own version of the reform bill for two reasons, according to Channel 12. The first is to move the bill faster through the Knesset, without requiring a months-long review by Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara. The attorney general’s input is required for government-proposed legislation, but not for “private bills” of Knesset members.

The second reason is that Rothman wants to introduce his own reforms, as detailed above.

Levin first offered details on his judicial reform bill on Jan. 11. It immediately led to a storm of protest from opposition members, who decried the changes as a “threat to democracy” that would upset Israel’s system of checks and balances.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended the proposal, arguing that instead of weakening the judicial system, it would be “strengthening all of our systems, democracy and the rule of law, which are dependent on the correct balance between institutions. This balance that we find in all countries across the world has been somewhat broken in Israel, and we have to return it in a responsible way and that’s what we will do.”

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