This morning, Israel's Judicial Selection Committee unanimously elected Justice Esther Hayut as president of the Supreme Court in place of outgoing president Miriam Naor. The committee elected Justice Hanan Melcer as deputy president of the court. The two will be sworn in in their new roles in October.
Hayut's appointment follows failed attempts by Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked to change the convention whereby the presidency of the Supreme Court goes according to seniority among the court justices.
In many ways, Hayut's appointment represents an inspiring success story. She was born in 1953 in a transit camp near Herzliya. Her parents, Holocaust survivors from Romania, divorced when she was one and a half years old. Her father emigrated to Britain and her mother had to work for a living, and so she grew up in the home of her grandparents in the Neve Amal area of Herzliya, south of the transit camp. The family was destitute, and the young Esther's life was not easy in that sense, but she quickly became an outstanding school pupil and a hard-working law student, and was appointed a judge at a relatively young age. Her first steps in the judiciary were in the court for local matters (to which she was appointed at age 37), and, climbing swiftly through the judicial ranks she reached the Supreme Court in 2003. Now, aged 63, with fourteen years behind her on the Supreme Court bench, she is about to head Israel's judiciary.
A senior lawyer says of her appointment, "I am sure that she will tread in her predecessors' footsteps and preserve the independence of the legal system."
Shaked decided earlier this year not to bring Hayut's appointment up for discussion in the Judicial Selection Committee until the committee discussed the seniority method whereby the Supreme Court president is chosen. When Shaked realized, however, that she would not find a single judge who would dare accept the appointment as president of the court in place of Hayut, against the stance of incumbent president Miriam Naor, she backed down, saying, "When you want to change something, you keep digging until you make another crack. There are no pressures on me from the right not to appoint Hayut. It's hard to characterize her rulings."
The assessment is that Hayut will not make life easy for Shaked. According to a senior lawyer, "Naor was dragged into confrontations against her will, but with Hayut it will be head to head." Another adds, "It will be more because of Hayut's personality than because of her views, which are not fundamentally different from those of Naor."
Other lawyers agree that the confrontations will be fiercer, and that "Hayut will not change the legacy of any president who served before her", including on widening the range of those who have standing before the court, judicial review of questions of public policy, preservation of the independence of the legal system, and "everything that Aharon Barak instituted."
Most experts in academia and in the legal profession agree that Hayut's judicial principles are far from being "activist" as opposed to "conservative", and even further from being susceptible of characterization on the right-left political scale. She is known for her command of the details of the hearings over which she presides, and for speedy and thorough drafting of rulings afterwards. Her rulings tend to stick closely to the circumstances of the matter and to seek the best possible solution for the parties, rather than aiming to set general precedents. In the tension that has arisen in Israel in recent years between the judicial arm of the state and the other two, her approach has been described as "controlled activism".
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on September 5, 2017
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