Courts as Hegemonic Institutions and Social Change
This article explores significant changes in the public status of the Israeli Supreme Court, which since the 1970s has assumed a central place in Israeli politics, and considers sources of the Court’s public legitimacy. I argue that the high, even hegemonic status of the Israeli Supreme Court resembles a global phenomenon that has politically empowered supreme courts in many democracies. The high public status of the Israeli Supreme Court and its involvement in political controversies have two main causes. The first is a fragmentation and polarization of other power centers, including the legislature and the executive, while the second is a cultural Americanization and the prevalence of liberal values in some segments of Israeli society.
These causes of change have enabled the Supreme Court to mobilize three sources of legitimacy: specific, diffuse, and primarily mythical. Transforming those sources of legitimacy into institutional power vis-a-vis other institutions, the Court has become a hegemonic institution. This has made the court a popular target for litigation and a forum for airing sociopolitical rifts. A major condition for judicial power is the scope of its legitimacy. The Court’s expanded authority cannot be comprehended without a theoretical framework comparing Israel to other nations. As noted above, changes in the status of the Court parallel those in other democracies such as France, Germany, and Italy. This article examines relations between supreme courts, public environments, and judicial legitimacy, explores the sources of judicial legitimacy, investigates the historic sources of faith in the court, and inquires into the sociopolitical limits of adjudication.