As Justice Minister, Livni bears ministerial responsibility for judicial appointments in Israel. Unlike in the U.S. and other democracies, judges in Israel are appointed by a committee in which the government has a distinct minority of the votes, and in which sitting justices of the Supreme Court are the largest voting bloc, substantially enabling them to select their own successors.
Livni is standing firm, though, against Chief Justice Aharon Barak, in insisting on the appointment of Hebrew University Prof. Ruth Gavison. Gavison, one of Israel's leading constitutional experts, is perhaps the most prominent critic of Barak's jurisprudence, and would bring much-needed balance to a court which today is nearly homogeneous in judicial outlook, not to mention socioeconomic, ethnic and religious makeup.
The court has three vacancies; Livni refuses to convene the appointments committee unless she has secured Gavison's appointment. Reports the Jerusalem Post:
Because of the strength of her personality, Barak fears that Gavison will dominate the court after he retires next year and undo all the changes he has accomplished during his years as head of the judicial pyramid.
Livni, for her part, believes that one of the most crucial tasks for the Minister of Justice is to help mold the Supreme Court. She is not ready to leave that job to Barak, who has generally dominated the appointments to the court during his tenure.
In any other realm of government, Barak would be the first to cry foul if a single perspective were to dominate a state institution, with prominent opposing voices excluded. In the courts, though, what he says goes. We can't let differences of opinion confuse the clear, unambiguous meaning of Israel's unwritten constitution!
Most striking, watching the confirmation battles for the U.S. Supreme Court, is how little the subject has engaged the Israeli public. The issue is rarely debated, and usually relegated to the back pages. That's what happens when the public's representatives have almost no say in the appointment of the men and women who will be among the most influential in shaping the country's future in the years to come.
Tzipi, stick to your guns! This is a fight we can't afford you to lose.