After nearly two years in office, Chief Justice Esther Hayut is firmly in control of the Supreme Court.
She has fought and negotiated with former justice minister Ayelet Shaked over new appointments to the court with each side getting to pick a justice more to their liking.
More recently, she has loudly butted heads with new Acting Justice Minister Amir Ohana, who seems even more intent than Shaked on reducing the court’s power.
Along with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, Hayut has to date successfully fought off attempts to push to give 61 members of the Knesset the power to veto Supreme Court rulings.
She has said that the status of the Supreme Court is not the issue – it is the eradication of basic human rights and the legal chaos that would result.
All of that said, Hayut is no liberal – she is at most a moderate activist, if not a straight centrist.
Earlier in September, she was the decisive voice in a 4-3 Supreme Court vote to embrace the government’s policy of holding onto terrorists’ bodies to negotiate the return of Israeli bodies being held by Hamas.
A regular three justice panel of the Supreme Court had already declared the policy a violation of international law, which was also how the policy was mostly perceived globally.
Hayut not only was the decisive vote recognizing the policy as legal, but was the key actor in allowing a rare appeal of the original Supreme Court decision.
Taking office at the young age of 64, Hayut will run the court for six years – longer than both recent chief justices Asher Grunis and Miriam Naor combined. Far more like Naor and Grunis than Aharon Barak or Dorit Beinisch, the true activist chief justices, she is frequently in the majority when the court splits, but upholds a Knesset law.
While the Supreme Court during her reign has pressed the government to resolve the issue of Haredim integrating into the IDF, her court has purposely kept its head down and delayed ruling on two mega issues. Though it froze the Settlements Regulations Law, in the two-and-half-years since a petition was filed to strike that law, the court has shockingly refused to rule. Hayut appears to be using the same strategy in refusing to rule on the Nation-State Law.
Hayut has crossed the political class with disqualifying some Otzma Yehudit candidates from running for Knesset, but on that issue, even much of the court’s conservative wing is supportive.
Before 1990, Hayut spent over a decade in the private sector, before climbing up the judicial ladder post by post from 1990-2004 until reaching the Supreme Court.
“For the rule of the people not to turn into the tyranny of the people, we must promise to protect the rule of law and the rights of the individual, especially the rights of minorities.”