Two new justices appointed to Israel Supreme Court

Two nominees for Israel’s Supreme Court were confirmed this week.  Alex Stein, a Brooklyn Law professor who was born in the Soviet Union, will join current Tel Aviv District Court judge Ofer Grosskopf on the country’s highest court. They will replace Yoram Dinziger and Uri Shoham, whose terms end later this year.

The nominations were not without controversy. Stein has lived in the United States for the past 14 years (he previously lived in Israel), but has a reputation as a conservative and was strongly supported by current Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. The confirmations also came just a week after another Tel Aviv District Court judge, Khaled Kabub, withdrew his candidacy for the Supreme Court. Kabub, an Israeli Arab and a Muslim, faced stiff confirmation headwinds after another Israeli Arab, George Kara, was appointed to the court last year.

 

Muslim judge on the short list for appointment to Israel’s Supreme Court

Israel’s Judicial Selection Committee reportedly is strongly considering Khaled Kabub, currently a district judge in Tel Aviv, for appointment to the country’s Supreme Court. If appointed to an open poisiton this coming February, Judge Kabub would be the first Muslim to sit on the court in a permanent capacity.

The Selection Committee includes (among others) current members of the Supreme Court, the country’s Justice Minister, and representatives of the Israel Bar Association. It is the bar association that is reportedly pushing Kabub’s candidacy. The choice is interesting not only because of Kabub’s religion, but because of his current position: he would be replacing Justice Yoram Danziger, who came to the court from the private sector, and there had been a general understanding that Danziger’s replacement would also be a private attorney. The bar association, however, has argued that it is important for the Court to reflect all segments of Israeli society, and the appointment of a Muslim judge would advance that cause.

Aspiring rabbinical judges in Israel must now certify that they have not withheld a divorce

I have written previously about the rabbinical courts in Israel, a court system which shares jurisdiction with Israel’s civil courts on divorce, family law, and personal status cases, but which applies entirely different law. This disparity often leads to a race to the courthouse among dueling spouses in divorce cases. Among the most controversial aspects of the religious law is a husband’s traditional power to withhold permission for the couple to divorce, which can trap women in unhappy or abusive relationships. Of late, the rabbinical courts have attempted to respond by sanctioning these “recalcitrant husbands,” although not to the degree advocated by women’s rights groups.

In an important new ruling, Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau has announced that aspiring rabbinical judges will now have to certify they have personally have not refused to grant their own wives a divorce. While refusal to grant a divorce is not automatically disqualifying, it will have that practical effect on a candidacy. An official in Rabbi Lau’s office stated that “Disqualifying candidates to be rabbinical judges for having been divorce refusers constitutes a values-based statement that a man who does not listen to the instructions of a rabbinical court can never be allowed to be a judge in a rabbinical court.”

 

Israeli Supreme Court gets new president

Justice Esther Hayut was unanimously elected to the position by the country’s Judicial Appointments Committee.  The vote appears to have been pretty pro forma, in that the position traditionally goes to the longest serving justice.  But the unanimity of voting members also masks some tension between Israel’s right-leaning and centrist parties over the composition of the Supreme Court.  The Times of Israel has a fuller explanation.

Women’s groups in Israel challenge official divorce statistics

Earlier this week, Israel’s rabbinical courts released their annual statistics on divorces granted in the country, noting a very slight uptick over last year.  The statistics also identified the number of divorces granted to women whose husbands had left the country, as well as the number of “recalcitrant husbands” who were sanctioned by the courts for refusing to grant a divorce to their wives.

The latter statistics are relevant because marriage and divorce in Israel is governed by Jewish law (halacha), and divorces fall purely within the province of the country’s rabbinical courts. To obtain a divorce, both parties to the marriage must agree.  In practice, this often means that a woman who wants a divorce (for any reason, including spousal abuse) cannot obtain one without her husband’s consent.  Courts are authorized to sanction “recalcitrant husbands” who refuse to agree to a divorce, but this process typically takes years of court hearings.

Shortly after the statistics were released, several women’s groups in Israel questioned their validity.  In particular, the groups claimed that the number of sanctioned husbands badly underestimated the number of husbands nationwide who refused to grant a divorce.  The groups also questioned the statistics showing that 211 women were granted divorces in 2016 after their husbands fled the country, noting that the special court unit charged with administering such divorces would have granted almost one per workday–an impossibly high amount.

 

How a single ministerial appointment provides a window into the institutional character of courts

 The Jerusalem Post reports that Israel’s Religious Services Ministry has agreed to appoint a woman as deputy director of the country’s rabbinical courts sometime within the next three months. The decision comes in the wake of pressure from both Israel’s High Court of Justice and the women’s rights organization Mavoi Satum.

The decision to break the gender barrier for the rabbinical courts, even for a purely administrative appointment, offers some surprising insights into the relationship between the rabbinical courts, Israel’s secular judicial system, and the society in which they both operate. More after the jump.

Continue reading “How a single ministerial appointment provides a window into the institutional character of courts”

Ravid on Tweeting #Justice

Itay Ravid (JSD candidate, Stanford) has posted his new article, Tweeting #Justice: Audio-Visual Coverage of Court Proceedings in a World of Shifting Technology, on SSRN. It should be of significant interest to readers of this blog who follow issues of comparative law and court transparency.  From the abstract:

The debate over whether to allow cameras into courtrooms refuses to fade away. In 2015 alone, U.S. federal courts completed a five-year experiment with cameras in courts, New Zealand published new guidelines for audio-visual coverage, and Scotland completely revised its former broadcast policy. These jurisdictions, and others around the globe, constantly struggle to design model practices that successfully balance freedom of the press, transparency, and public access to information, with rights to a fair trial and privacy. The constant need to rethink coverage policies can be attributed in large part to the advancement of technology, providing the media innovative tools to report from within courtrooms even when formal legal norms bar direct reports. These advancements often result in an unsettling disparity between formal norms and the reality of court coverage.

Drawing on the Israeli example, this Article seeks to address this timely issue, illustrating how social media and technological advancements can push regulators to re-evaluate legal regimes that seem to lag behind the law in action. The Article provides a systematic analysis of both doctrinal arguments and empirical data on the policies adopted by different common law jurisdictions, aiming to devise a policy framework for audio-visual coverage of courts in the age of hyper-technology. By synthesizing lessons from these jurisdictions, the Article first traces the evolution of the doctrine on audio-visual coverage across various jurisdictions, and its constitutional framing. Moreover, the Article exposes the politicization of constitutional law: how courts adopt flexible frameworks with regard to policies on constitutional issues that affect them. Second, the Article suggests that existing empirical data are generally supportive of coverage, showing almost no adverse effects resulting from the presence of cameras in courtrooms. Third, the Article provides practical tools for reaching balanced coverage policies, offering the first analytical framework for the design of coverage policies. The Article utilizes the Israeli case study—a country with currently no audio-visual coverage policy—in order to implement the suggested framework and offers a comprehensive coverage policy within Israeli courts.