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Over 70 U.S. legal scholars warn against ‘speed and scale’ of Israel’s judicial overhaul

Prominent law professors, including the former deans of Harvard and Yale law schools, signed a joint statement against the Netanyahu government’s plan to dramatically weaken the Supreme Court and curtail the independence of government legal advisers

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission. Sign up here to get Haaretz’s free Daily Brief newsletter delivered to your inbox.

Prominent legal scholars in the United States have joined the opposition to the Benjamin Netanyahu government’s proposed judicial reforms, in a public statement saying that they are “deeply worried” that the reforms as proposed “will seriously weaken the independence of the judiciary, the separation of powers and the rule of law” in Israel.

The statement has been signed by over 70 U.S. law professors – including the former deans of Harvard and Yale Law Schools – and continues to collect more signatures “by the minute,” according to Prof. Oren Bar-Gill, a Harvard University law professor, one of the three Israeli scholars teaching in the U.S. behind the initiative, together with his Harvard colleague, Prof. Jesse Fried, and Prof. Amos Guiora, who teaches law at the University of Utah.

Bar-Gill noted that the scholars who signed the letter reflect the full spectrum of opinions on judicial activism, including those who have criticized the current system in Israel in the past.

“We don’t all see eye-to-eye on many things, but we came together on a very basic level. Even if some of us think there is a need for change, the scorched earth approach presented by (Justice Minister) Yariv Levin is so dangerous and scary, that we must say something. So we tried to come up with a statement that everyone could sign on to, but still sends a strong message that what is going on here is scary and unacceptable,” Bar-Gill said.

Prominent signatories include Prof. Martha Minow, who served as dean of Harvard Law School between 2009 and 2017, and now holds the title of 300th Anniversary University Professor at the university, and Robert Post, Sterling Professor of Law at Yale Law School, who also served as dean from 2009 until 2017. Also signing from Yale is Prof. Alan Schwartz, one of the fifty most cited law professors of all time and a past president of the American Law and Economics Association.

The letter declares that “we, law professors in the United States who care deeply about Israel, strongly oppose the effort by the current Israeli government to radically overhaul the country’s legal system.”

The reforms, which, according to the letter would make it “almost impossible” for the Supreme Court to invalidate legislation, limit judicial review and curtail the independence of government legal advisers, the letter reads, would damage the “safeguards that have contributed to Israel’s flourishing over the last 75 years, helping it weather severe security, political and social challenges. Weakening them would pose a dire risk to freedom of expression, to human and civil rights, and to efforts to reduce corruption, making it harder for Israel to survive such challenges going forward.”

The letter notes that some of the scholars signed to it “believe that the Israeli Supreme Court has over-reached in important respects and would support a scaling back of its power to review legislation and executive decisions. Others believe that the legal status quo need not be changed.”

But even the critics of the existing situation, it says are opposed to the “speed and scale” of the reforms as proposed.

“We hope for Israel’s sake that it chooses a wiser path,” the letter concludes.

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