It's unclear what the honorable Justice Asher Grunis thinks of the eponymous bill that passed a first reading in the Knesset plenum on Monday. It is pretty clear what Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch thinks of it. Because the bill is not about Grunis at all. It's about the system the Right is fed up with.
The Grunis Law, proposed by National Union chairman Yaakov Katz and backed by right-wing and coalition parties, will force Beinisch to choose between what she regards as two bad alternatives. The first is appointing Grunis, a judge who opposes her path of judicial activism. The other is annulling the Supreme Court's "seniority" system, whereby the justice who has served longest automatically becomes the court's next president. If the seniority principle is annulled, the Supreme Court becomes an open playing field. Beinisch would be subject to the good graces of the Judicial Selection Committee.
In a military pincer movement, the coalition has proposed additional bills limiting freedom of action for Supreme Court justices. Not all of them will pass. Some are intended as bargaining chips in negotiations with leaders of the judicial system. There may be no victors in this battle. The power struggle among the branches of government has introduced a crack in the coalition, with the Independence party flouting coalition discipline for the first time, its members fleeing the plenary just before the vote on the Grunis Law and the law altering the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee.
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The coalition will seek its revenge on the Independence party. This will take the form of standard parliamentary punishments: tabling legislation, delaying budget transfers and denying MK Einat Wilf chairmanship of the Immigrant Absorption Committee. Coalition Chairman MK Zeev Elkin has said as much. But with all due respect to Barak and his buddies, they are not the story. They can't even issue threats. Their right to exist depends on Benjamin Netanyahu's good will.
The real story is Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. He saw members of the Independence party shirking their duty as coalition members while his own party toed the line, and he wants revenge. His message to Netanyahu's people is clear: If Barak is not restrained, I will run amok as well. Netanyahu himself probably won't be able to wriggle out of this one, even to help Barak, his close friend.
The reaction of Kadima party members was interesting to watch. In a raging fury, chairwoman Tzipi Livni joined the circle of criticism against the proposed laws, while her party members ascended the podium one by one to spew their own fire and brimstone.
Imagine what would happen if the coalition had not stopped at the proposed laws, but initiated a bill to restrict the power of the Supreme Court to invalidate Knesset laws, or a proposed law giving the Knesset authority to reinstate a law nullified by the High Court of Justice? Or if it had decided the Supreme Court cannot have authority over diplomatic and security matters and restricted the rights of those petitioning the High Court?
There is no need to guess what would happen. Because it already has happened. Such proposals were pushed forward with great determination by Kadima Justice Minister Daniel Friedman, with blatant disregard for the outcry by retired Supreme Court Justices Aharon Barak, Mishael Cheshin and Dalia Dorner. How did Livni and other Kadima members react then? They kept their mouths shut and cast their yes vote.
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