Israeli Parliament passes law to limit judicial power
By Patrick Kingsley
The Israeli parliament passed a law Monday that limits the Supreme Court’s ability to overturn decisions made by government ministers, completing the first stage of a wider and deeply contentious effort to curb the influence of the judiciary.
The court is now barred from overruling the national government using the legal standard of “reasonableness,” a concept that judges previously used to block ministerial appointments and contest planning decisions, among other government measures.
The enactment of the law is the government’s first victory in a seven-month effort to reduce the court’s power. Previous plans that would have allowed parliament to overrule the court’s decisions and give the government more sway over who gets to be a Supreme Court justice were suspended by the government in March, after an eruption of street protests, labor strikes and disquiet in the military.
The new law passed despite a similar level of opposition, as well as criticism from the Biden administration. Large parts of the country fear that the legislation undermines the quality of Israel’s democracy and will allow the government — the most ultranationalist and ultraconservative in Israeli history — to build a less pluralist society.
The government and its supporters say the legislation will in fact improve democracy by giving elected lawmakers greater autonomy over unelected judges, allowing them to more easily carry out the policies that they were elected to enact. The court can still overrule the government using other legal measures.
This disagreement is part of a much wider and long-running social dispute about the nature and future of Israeli society. The ruling coalition and its base generally have a more religious and conservative vision, and see the court as an obstacle to that goal. The opposition tends to have a more secular and diverse vision, and consider the court as a standard-bearer for their cause.
The concept of reasonableness, never defined in a written statute, had become an emblem of that rift. In Israel, judges generally consider a decision unreasonable if they conclude it was made without considering all relevant issues or without giving relevant weight to each issue, or by applying too much weight to irrelevant factors.
The ruling coalition viewed this standard as too subjective, and allowed for too much judicial meddling. The opposition saw it as a safeguard against government overreach.