The Tenure on the Bench of Supreme Court Justices
Among assertions that a limited tenure for justices would prevent excessive influence by past governments on the current composition of the Supreme Court bench and allow the current government to replace a larger number of justices - what is the average tenure of Israeli Supreme Court justices?
In Israel, judges serve until they reach age 70. Those who support a change in the method of appointing Supreme Court justices so as to give greater weight to the public’s elected representatives often also propose a fixed term on the bench. The argument is that limiting justices to a tenure of 9, 10, or 12 years—as is the practice for constitutional courts in Europe—would moderate the alleged infringement of the principle of democratic decision-making effected by judicial review. A limited tenure, it is asserted, would prevent excessive influence by past governments on the current composition of the Supreme Court bench and allow the current government to replace a larger number of justices. Similar arguments are sometimes voiced in the United States, where judges enjoy life tenure.
Against the backdrop of these arguments, we should examine the average tenure of Israeli Supreme Court justices. Since the establishment of the Supreme Court the average has been 12.3 years, and has grown shorter since the 1960s. Until 1995, the average term on the bench was 12.5 years; since then- 12.1 years. So, whereas the justices appointed in the 1950s served an average of 22.6 years, their successors have had much shorter Supreme Court careers.
For comparison’s sake, in the United States, Supreme Court justices have had an average tenure exceeding 16 years (almost 17 years, in fact); since 1950 the figure has been 19.4 years, and even longer if we consider only justices who left the bench since 1970.
In other words, whereas the average tenure of justices in the United States is relatively long and getting longer, in Israel it is shorter—close to the situation in Europe—and decreasing. So, it is not clear what need or reasons motivate the advocates of fixed terms in this country.
Average Length of Term for Supreme Court Justices in Israel (average in years)
* The term of sitting justices has been computed on the assumption that they will remain on the bench until their mandatory retirement at age 70.
** The average was calculated for each decade with regard to the fixed tenure of fixed (rather than temporary) justices appointed in that period.
*** Sources: Judicial branch website; announcements of judicial appointments published in the Official Gazette; the National Library’s historical Jewish newspaper site.