Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Disappointed? Just Alito

President Bush's latest worrying Supreme Court nomination is a good excuse for another one of my US-Israel comparisons: the Judicial Appointments Edition. As you know, in the States, the president nominates a candidate, the senate judiciary committee grills him or her in hearings and then the whole Senate decides whether to confirm the nominee's appointment or not. It's all very political.

In Israel, on the other hand, the prime minister's role in the judicial nomination process is very limited. The same is true for the president, who officially appoints and swears in the judges, but isn't the one who picks them. He appoints those that the Judicial Nominations Committee picks. I'm not sure whether he can legally refuse to appoint someone the committee chose, but that has never happened.

So, who are the members of the committee? All three branches of government are represented, as well as one public organization, the Israeli Bar Association. There are five legal professionals (three justices and two representatives of the Bar), and four politicians (two government ministers and two Knesset members). The fact that the politicians are a minority makes for a fairly non-political appointment process (though everything is political to some degree). The only problem is that public debate over nominations is very limited. Though the proceedings are not secret, the committee does not scrutinize the candidates like the Senate Judiciary Committee does, and it doesn't hold public hearing on their nominations.

I think the best way to pick judges would be to fuse together the American and Israeli methods. A non-partisan committee should pick the nominees, but they should be thoroughly scrutinized in televised hearings. This should be done either by the committee itself or by some other body. In my opinion, in Israel's case it would be a good idea if the committee itself held those hearings for candidates they shortlist, inviting members of the Knesset, former judges and other public figures, to pose questions to the candidates, though only the nine committee members would make the final decision.

If a system such as this were in place in the United States, maybe the country would have avoided embarrassments such as Miers and extremists such as Alito seems to be.

PS: Excuse the pun in the title. I just had to say it.

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