Benjamin Netanyahu has put two bills before the Knesset that would curb some of the outsized power of Israel’s supreme court. The first would give elected officials greater say in the appointment of new justices. The second would place limits on the court’s ability to overturn laws passed by the Knesset. Some prominent Israelis have criticized these proposals as limits on the independence of the judiciary or even assaults on democracy itself. They are neither, writes Evelyn Gordon:
[The second] bill would . . . bar the court from overturning a law . . . unless at least nine justices—a mere 60 percent of the court’s complement of fifteen—deem the law unconstitutional. And that’s excellent policy. . . .
[I]if the court itself is almost evenly split over a law’s constitutionality, there’s clearly more than one plausible legal interpretation. And if there’s more than one plausible interpretation, it makes sense to prefer the one chosen by the Knesset, the body that actually wrote the Basic Laws that the court (wrongly) treats as Israel’s constitution. When serious doubt exists about the “correct” interpretation—which it clearly does if less than 60 percent of the court concurs—the lawmakers should get the benefit of this doubt. . . .
This brings us back to the straw man of the court’s independence. Judicial independence is indisputably essential; a country where courts merely obey government dictates is a dictatorship, not a democracy. Hence by claiming that Netanyahu’s proposals would undermine judicial independence, his critics seek to tar them as something no democracy could countenance.
But what these critics are really trying to protect isn’t the court’s independence but its excessive power—a power, without parallel in any other democracy, by which justices first choose their own successors to create an ideologically uniform court, then seek to impose this ideology on the country by asserting a right to overturn government decisions and/or [Knesset] legislation on virtually every important policy issue. . . . All the proposed reforms would do is return a tiny fraction of this power to the people’s elected representatives. And Israel’s democracy would be the greatest beneficiary.