Skip To Content
Fast Forward

Retired Supreme Court Justice Breyer hopeful about compromise on Israel’s judicial overhaul

‘Beware of changes that are too fast, beware of changing too quickly,’ Breyer cautioned the Israeli government

Chiming in on the debate over Israel’s proposed judicial overhaul plan, retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer on Sunday said the Israeli government should act with “the greatest caution” and slow down the judicial reform process. But he declined to say whether he thought that if the reform bill passed without compromise that Israel would cease to be a liberal democracy.

“Beware of changes that are too fast, beware of changing too quickly, beware of giving up what you have before you get used to something new,” Breyer, who was known as a consensus-building moderate liberal in his more than two decades tenure on the high court, said in a panel discussion Sunday evening at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. “In other words, I would not say ‘never.’ But I would say, the greatest caution is called for and the most thorough looking into it and a broad consensus that you’re not getting into something worse.”

Breyer appeared with Dorit Beinisch, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court; and Rosalie Silberman Abella, the first Jewish woman to sit on the Canadian Supreme Court bench, who retired in 2021. The panel was part of a series, co-presented with the Israel Democracy Institute, marking the upcoming 75th anniversary of Israel’s founding.

The judicial overhaul plan, announced in January, a week after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formed a new government, triggered a political and economic crisis that led to the suspension of the legislative process. The initial plan would have given lawmakers the ability to overturn Supreme Court decisions with a one-vote majority and the Knesset would have unprecedented power to appoint judges. In the absence of a written constitution, Israel has a system of basic laws and rights.

Talks are currently ongoing at the Israeli president’s residence in Jerusalem in an effort to reach a compromise. “I have decided to take a timeout, try to get a balance between the opposing views — and there are strongly opposing views in both sides of our society — and I hope to reach this by consensus,” Netanyahu said in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press program on Sunday.

Breyer, 84, said he hopes the efforts to reach a compromise that would lead to the drafting of a constitution bear fruit. An independent court that protects individual people’s rights “was part of the founding principle of Israel,” he said, mentioning that he still remembers the moment Israel was established in 1948.

Asked if Israel will still be called a liberal democracy if the reform plan passes without compromise, Breyer demurred. “I don’t have to answer every question,” he said, drawing laughter. “I don’t think it is going to happen, frankly, because there’s so much argument against it. And sometimes when there is much argument against it, it doesn’t happen.”

I hope you appreciated this article. Before you go, I’d like to ask you to please support the Forward’s award-winning, nonprofit journalism during this critical time.

Now more than ever, American Jews need independent news they can trust, with reporting driven by truth, not ideology. We serve you, not any ideological agenda.

At a time when other newsrooms are closing or cutting back, the Forward has removed its paywall and invested additional resources to report on the ground from Israel and around the U.S. on the impact of the war, rising antisemitism and the protests on college campuses.

Readers like you make it all possible. Support our work by becoming a Forward Member and connect with our journalism and your community.

Make a gift of any size and become a Forward member today. You’ll support our mission to tell the American Jewish story fully and fairly. 

— Rachel Fishman Feddersen, Publisher and CEO

Join our mission to tell the Jewish story fully and fairly.

Republish This Story

Please read before republishing

We’re happy to make this story available to republish for free, unless it originated with JTA, Haaretz or another publication (as indicated on the article) and as long as you follow our guidelines. You must credit the Forward, retain our pixel and preserve our canonical link in Google search.  See our full guidelines for more information, and this guide for detail about canonical URLs.

To republish, copy the HTML by clicking on the yellow button to the right; it includes our tracking pixel, all paragraph styles and hyperlinks, the author byline and credit to the Forward. It does not include images; to avoid copyright violations, you must add them manually, following our guidelines. Please email us at [email protected], subject line “republish,” with any questions or to let us know what stories you’re picking up.

We don't support Internet Explorer

Please use Chrome, Safari, Firefox, or Edge to view this site.