In Israel, judges sit on the bench until they reach the age of 70, while advocates for changing the current method of their appointment often support the idea of limiting Supreme Court judges’ tenure.
The article was originally published in November 2019 and updated in June 2022
In Israel, judges sit on the bench until they reach the age of 70. Advocates for changing the current method of appointing Supreme Court justices, by switching to one granting greater power to elected officials, also often support the idea of limiting Supreme Court judges’ tenure to a term of 9, 10 or 12 years, as is customary in European Constitutional Courts. They argue that this will mitigate what is alleged to be the judicial review’s violation of the principle of democratic decision. Limiting judges’ terms, so it is argued, will prevent too strong of an influence of past governments on the present bench of the Supreme Court, and will allow the current government to act to replace more judges. Similar arguments are sometimes voiced in the United States, where judges serve a lifetime tenure.
Against the backdrop of these claims, the average term of Israeli Supreme Court judges is presented below. The overall average tenure of Supreme Court justices from the time of the Court’s establishment is 12.1 years, with a trend towards shorter terms since the 1960s. The average term until 1995 was 12.5 years, and since then the average is 11.6 years. Thus, while Supreme Court justices appointed in the 1950s served an average of 22.6 years, judges appointed since then served on average much shorter periods.
In comparison, the average tenure of U.S. Supreme Court justices is almost 17 years, and now (since 1970) is almost 26 years. In other words, while in the United States the average term of office of Supreme Court justices is both relatively long and on the rise, in Israel the average term is shorter, more similar to the European model, and is on the decline. And so, it is unclear what is the point or need for limiting the terms of justices in Israel.
Terms of Office of Supreme Court Justices (average years)
* Regarding presiding judges, the number of expected days in office are estimated assuming they retire as per the age prescribed by law.
** The average was calculated in each period between the number of days of the permanent judges appointed during that period.
*** Sources: Judiciary site; Notices of appointment of judges in the publications; Historical Jewish Press Website.