The government on Sunday approved Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's controversial motion to limit the Supreme Court's legislative leeway. Thirteen ministers voted in favor of the proposal, while 11 opposed it. The motion will next be discussed by the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
Supreme Court judges enjoy a vast legislative leeway which allows them to annul any Knesset act they feel may contrast the Basic Laws. Friedmann's reform aims to limit the High Court's ability to quash any legislation detrimental to human rights.
Following the public criticism, Friedmann decided to "soften" his original proposal, suggesting that the High Court would be able to annul laws only if they contradict Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, and noth any other basic law.
The Knesset will be able to reapprove a law disqualified by the court, by a majority of 61 Knesset members and subject to a difference of at least five MKs between the law's supporters and opposers.
Minister Friedmann said following the vote, "This is a point of change and an important step in restoring the government's ability to control and in strengthening the Knesset's status.
"At the same time, the bill does not harm the Supreme Court, but rather strengthens is, as for the first time in the history of the State of Israel it is given the legitimization to annul Knesset laws based on basic laws with a restrictive clause."
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was one of the motion's main opposers, demanding that amendments be made to the bill. One of her demands was that the motion would be turned over to the Ministerial Committee for Legislative Affairs. Her proposals were turned down and she voted against the motion.
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told his ministers earlier that he believed debating the motion was "crucial, as we need to create a balanced separation between the legislative, judicial and executive authorities. It is because this is such a controversial matter that this is a pivotal debate."
Tempers ran high as Vice Premier Haim Ramon and Defense Minister Ehud Barak butted heads over Labor's motion to have the bill removed form the cabinet's agenda.
Labor, said Barak, "is adamantly against limiting the Supreme Court's authorities." Olmert's government, he added, is in no political condition to grant motions like Justice Minister Friedmann's.
"There is nothing quit as ridiculous as the gall demonstrated by the party which violated the first rule of the coalition and impeached the prime minister," said Ramon in response.
Checks and balances
"This matter must be brought before the Knesset plenum. The Knesset should be the one to decide on the question of which majority is required in order to overrule a high court decision to annul a law," he added. "The current situation is unreasonable… we have to push the proper legislation to regulate it."
Friedmann's motion encountered objections within the Kadima party as well: Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On said the motions "should be introduced to the cabinet only after the Ministerial Committee on Legislation has the chance to study it properly. This is not how things are done."
"I can't sanction this motion," added Minister of the Development of the Negev and the Galil Jacob Edery. "This isn’t the time to discuss such things, not when this government is nearing the end of its term."
Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit reiterated, "I'm against this move. As a former justice minister I can support the notion that only the High Court will have the authority to quash laws; but I think the Knesset should be able to over rule any such decision, with a 70-MK majority, in order to keep the balance."
Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog said that "(Labor) called on many of the ministers and the party heads and we told them that this motion negates the coalitional agreements. Labor is against this bill. As important as the debate itself is, this isn’t the time for it. Moreover, we will not be party to challenging the Supreme Court's authority."
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai (Shas), however, said that while he has several reservations about the bill, but he may support the motion just the same.
Should Friedmann's motion be carried through, it would be the first time in Israeli's history, that the Supreme Court's authority to annul laws passed by the Knesset will be clearly defined in the statute.
The court's authority in the matter thus far has been derived from a precedent set by the Supreme Court itself.
Aviad Glickman contributed to this report