The List

The World's Most Meddlesome Supreme Courts

The United States isn't the only country where judges aren't exactly above the political fray.


The court: 21 judges appointed by the president for life terms

Activism: Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court cemented its reputation as one of the world's most active judiciaries on June 14 when it dissolved the country's Islamist-controlled parliament, throwing the country's electoral process for yet another loop. The decision followed a ruling in May that barred 10 candidates from the presidential race, including the Muslim Brotherhood's top candidate, millionaire backroom fixer Khairat el-Shater.

The court ruled that a third of the parliament had been elected unconstitutionally, therefore delegitimizing the entire body. That order follows another controversial ruling on the same day that allowed former President Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister, Ahmed Shafiq, to stay in the presidential race, which critics denounced as paving the way for the old regime to retain power.

Egypt's Supreme Court bench is filled entirely with judges appointed by Mubarak, a group with an obvious interest in blocking the Muslim Brotherhood from taking power.  The Brotherhood won nearly half of the parliamentary seats in last year's legislative election, and other Islamists gained another 20 percent. Even though Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was announced as the winner of the election on Sunday, it's still not clear how much authority he will be allowed by military authorities and presidential allies on the court. Critics around the world have joined the Brotherhood in chalking up the court's rulings to a "soft military coup." The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) is supposed to turn over political leadership to a civilian administration on June 30, but with the court's not-so-subtle attempts to keep the Brotherhood from wielding real clout, many fear that the SCAF will retain control indefinitely.



The court:  17 justices appointed by the president. Mandatory retirement age is 65.

Activism: On June 19, the Supreme Court issued a ruling stating that Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had "ceased to be the prime minister of Pakistan." Gilani had been held in contempt of court since refusing to prosecute President Asif Ali Zardari for corruption, as the court had directed two years ago.

Giliani's sacking is another episode in the escalating power struggle between the military-backed Supreme Court and the civilian administration, which is controlled by Gilani and Zardari's Pakistan People's Party (PPP). The court and the president have been butting heads since 2009, when Zardari opposed the reinstatement of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who had been sacked by then President Pervez Musharraf. Zardari had only allowed Chaudhry to return to power to avoid massive protests led by Zardari's rival, former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. The Supreme Court and Zardari's government have been on a collision course ever since, and Gilani's dismissal was yet another judicial attack on Zardari.

But the court didn't stop with ousting the prime minister. When Zardari and PPP leaders selected former finance and health minister Makhdoom Shahabuddin to replace Gilani as prime minister, the court issued a warrant for his arrest for alleged production of an illegal drug. Just to be safe, the arrest warrant includes the ousted prime minister's son, too. Although critics and activists have denounced the court's actions as a coup, spokesmen from the PPP have told their supporters to stand down for the time being.

On June 25, the PPP's second choice -- Raja Pervaiz Ashraf -- took over as prime minister. There's a good chance Ashraf may also be on a collision course with the court, as he is currently facing allegations of corruption and bribe-taking from his time as water and power minister. His relationship with the court could become even more tense if he follows in his predecessor's footsteps by refusing to investigate Zardari.



The court: 15 justices (Knesset determines number) appointed by a Judicial Selection Committee, a nine-member body consisting of Knesset representatives, supreme court justices, cabinet ministers, and representatives of the Israel Bar Association. All serve life terms.

Activism: A longstanding example of judicial activism, the Israeli Supreme Court recently delivered a controversial ruling that declared 30 Jewish apartments that had been built on privately held Palestinian property in the West Bank to be illegal. The court ordered the settlements be torn down by July 1, rejecting the state's petition to the delay the demolition. The government is also  currently petitioning the court to delay the razing of another West Bank settlement outpost that has been declared illegal. These cases are yet another phase of the ongoing battle between the Likud Party and the judiciary, which has often ruled in favor of Palestinians in the occupied territories.

The Israeli Supreme Court is one of the only judiciaries in the world that allows non-citizens to petition against acts of the state and the military. For example, in 2004 the court ruled in favor of Palestinian claimants who argued that a security barrier around North Jerusalem would disrupt the "fabric of life" for residents of the West Bank.

Israel has had a fairly active judiciary since its founding and as the country has no formal constitution, the court can decide on the legitimacy of almost any law the Knesset drafts. But the court's penchant for intervening really took off under Aharon Barak, who served as its president from 1995 to 2006. Barak's philosophy of activism -- denounced by some as "judicial imperialism" -- led to numerous confrontations with the Israeli government on issues of national security and Palestinian settlements. Prominent cases included the court's 1999 ban on torture in terrorism interrogations and its prohibition of targeted assassinations in 2008 -- although leaked documents suggested that the army ignored that ruling.

The activist tradition established under Barak has continued under his successors, but in the past year, the Likud-controlled Knesset has generated reams of bills seeking to limit the judiciary's power. One stipulated that justice candidates had to be vetted by the entire Knesset; another proposed a mechanism that would enable the Knesset to restore laws the court strikes down. Although Netanyahu has often been stymied by the court's decisions, he has blocked many of these votes -- often going against his own party -- and vowed to support the court's independence.



The court: 31 judges appointed by the president for life terms

Activism: India's Supreme Court routinely intervenes in national politics and in the daily lives of citizens.  According to its own website, the court delves into "matters in which interest of the public at large is involved," not only cases that pass through lower courts. This tendency has led to an explosion in public-interest litigation over the past decade.

India's judiciary came out swinging in the 1980s in an attempt to restore public faith in the court after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's period of emergency rule. During that time, the court was widely perceived as the prime minister's rubber stamp. Since then, the court has injected itself into virtually every area of public policy, going so far as to ban name-calling between castes ("In the modern age, nobody's feelings should be hurt," Chief Justice Markandey Katju remarked in that 2011 decision).

The "hyperactivist" Indian court has issued rulings on everything else from job creation to urban planning to the management of zoos. Often, such rulings are directives for the government to carry out, like distribute food aid or prosecute individuals the court deems corrupt. Some of the court's interventions have provoked public outrage, like the 2006 ruling ordering the government to demolish nearly 45,000 illegal storefronts in New Delhi that owners had bribed local politicians to overlook.

Some experts -- including former Indian Chief Justice J.S. Verma -- have warned that the court's micromanagement borders on "judicial tyranny," and runs the risk of usurping authority from the other two branches of government as it seeks to create and shape policy. Other critics say that the court is already there, run by judges that another former chief justice criticized as "social engineers."



The court: 5 judges appointed by the emir for life terms

Activism: While the spotlight was on the Egyptian Supreme Court's recent disbanding of parliament to prevent Islamist control, Kuwait's Constitutional Court did almost exactly the same thing on June 20 in the politically deadlocked Gulf state. Following a somewhat convoluted chain of events, Emir Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah's hand-picked court protected his grip on power by ruling one of his earlier decrees invalid.

Since the emir was reinstated following the Gulf War, Kuwait has been politically liberal -- by Gulf standards -- and the elected parliament regularly criticizes the government. But the system has become unworkable in recent years as the parliament, increasingly dominated by Islamist parties, has clashed with the cabinet picked by the emir. The emir has dissolved parliament four times since 2006 and his cabinet has resigned eight times.

In November 2011, the court blocked a parliamentary attempt to question Prime Minister Nasser al-Mohammed al-Sabah, a royal family member, over charges that he had paid bribes to pro-government MPs. Opposition groups, partly inspired by the events of the Arab Spring, stormed the parliament in protest and the emir dissolved parliament on Dec. 6, citing "deteriorating conditions," and called snap elections.

In those elections, held Feb. 6, anti-government Islamist parties made their strongest showing ever, taking 34 of the 50 seats in the legislature. Following several more months of deadlock this year, the court has now nullified the February election on the grounds that the emir's initial decrees dissolving parliament had been invalid and ordered that the previous parliament be reinstated. The opposition, not surprisingly, decried the decision, calling it a "coup against the constitution."

The court is clearly willing to do whatever it takes to preserve the emir's grip on power. But the fact that it can only do so by undermining his own decrees doesn't bode well for the future of Kuwait's tenuous political arrangement.


The List

5 Other People Ruining Zimbabwe

It's not just Robert Mugabe's fault the country is such a mess. (Just mostly.)

When Robert Mugabe turned 88 in February, he celebrated with five massive cakes, a soccer tournament dubbed the "Bob 88 Super Cup," and a beauty pageant. "The day will come when I will become sick," Mugabe told Radio Zimbabwe, according to AFP. "As of now I am fit as a fiddle."

Fortified with Botox, vitamin shots and black hair dye, Mugabe still seems pretty feisty, last week running down civilians with his motorcade and taking a bloated entourage to the United Nations sustainable development conference in Rio de Janiero, Brazil.  

Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is limping along, its economy broken and its government barely functioning. But while Mugabe continues to get all the international attention, he can't be held solely responsible for Zimbabwe's ongoing turmoil. Here's a list of five people who also deserve a bit of the blame.

1) Emmerson Mnangagwa

Known as "Ngwena," or "The Crocodile," for his reputed brutality, Mnangagwa is Zimbabwe's defense minister and the current favorite to succeed Mugabe. A veteran of the guerrilla war against the British, Mnangagwa went on to head the secret police in the 1980s, and he is thought to have orchestrated the slaughter of about 20,000 ethnically Ndebele civilians by a North Korean-trained army unit in the 1980s. Sokwanele, an activist group, called him "perhaps the one figure in Zimbabwe to inspire greater terror than President Mugabe."

More recently, Mnangagwa was Mugabe's chief election officer during the violent 2008 runoff vote, when thugs from the ruling party, Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF), waged a bloody intimidation campaign against opposition supporters. The Sunday Telegraph reported in April on a secret pact: Mugabe allegedly told Mnangagwa he would anoint him his successor -- as long as he ensured Mugabe's victory in the second round of voting. Mnangagwa dismissed this as mere noise intended to stir up interparty conflict. But according to Zimbabwe political analysts, "The Crocodile" is fighting hard in Zanu-PF's continuing power struggles.

Mnangagwa is also heavily involved in the construction of a military college near the capital, Harare, dubbed the Robert Mugabe National School of Intelligence, the Zimbabwean newspaper reported last year. Built by a Chinese construction company, the college has been financed with a $98 million Chinese loan, funded by a diamond deal with Chinese firm Anjin Investments. Mnangagwa recently admitted to Zimbabwean military involvement in the diamond trade, telling a university audience in Gweru that the Army struck deals with Chinese and Russian diamond firms to counter Western sanctions.

Joseph Mwenda/AFP/GettyImages

2. Saviour Kasukuwere

As indigenization and empowerment minister, Kasukuwere presides over the notorious 2010 law that forces foreign-owned companies to cede 51 percent of their shares to black Zimbabweans. This indigenization program has made Kasukuwere, 41, the youngest Zanu-PF minister, "a rising political star," according to South Africa's Times newspaper. He has vowed to intensify the program, claiming it will give Mugabe a boost in the upcoming election.

Kasukuwere, who in April confusingly claimed to Zimbabwe's Newsday that he is the "Hitler of our time," has been doing his best to terrify already nervous foreign investors. He announced that the government had unilaterally seized a controlling stake in an unspecified number of mines and threatened to take over another, owned by South Africa's Impala Platinum, without offering any compensation. Kasukuwere said he is seeking justice for his people and a restoration of rights to national resources. "If that is Hitler, let me be a Hitler tenfold," he told Newsday.


3. Morgan Tsvangirai

Many Zimbabweans credit Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, the former opposition leader turned coalition partner to Mugabe, for helping bring relative peace and stability to the country. But his critics say the country's stability has nothing to do with Tsvangirai, pointing instead to Zimbabwe's adoption of the American dollar and an increase in foreign aid. Ministries in their joint government barely function, and few of the reforms agreed to under the power-sharing deal have been implemented. In a leaked diplomatic cable, U.S. Amb. Charles Ray said in late 2009 that the party Tsvangirai leads, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), lacked strategic vision.  

Tsvangirai recently got engaged to the daughter of a high-ranking Zanu-PF official, and while there's no accounting for love, it is an odd choice given the continuing turmoil between Mugabe's party and Tsvangirai's MDC. His late wife, Susan, who died in a car crash less than a month after Tsvangirai became prime minister, in 2009, was hailed as "a mother of the nation." Zimbabweans are left wondering why Tsvangirai is marrying into the Zanu-PF, the party that has brutalized thousands of MDC supporters.


4. Obert Mpofu

The mining minister Mpofu has a tight grip on the state-owned Zimbabwe Mining Development Corporation (ZMDC), the company that controls the Marange fields in eastern Zimbabwe -- home to an estimated 25 percent of the world's diamonds. But little of the country's diamond revenue has found its way into state coffers, amid allegations of widespread smuggling and plunder of Marange's riches.

Finance Minister Tendai Biti said he only received $122 million in diamond revenues last year, money desperately needed to fund government projects, despite the country producing $334 million worth of gems. Mpofu, who calls himself Mugabe's "ever obedient son" and also has close ties to Beijing, has been struggling to explain why he is suddenly a very wealthy man.


5. Jacob Zuma

South African President Zuma is supposed to be facilitating talks on Zimbabwe's political crisis. After the disastrous 2008 elections, regional bloc known as the Southern African Development Community appointed Zuma as facilitator of dialogue between Zanu-PF and the MDC. Zimbabweans hoped Zuma would succeed in pushing for Mugabe to be held accountable.

But Zuma has been widely criticized for his utter lack of progress. "Revolutions have been conceived and executed and elections held, or due to be held in Tunisia and Egypt while Mr. Zuma is still trying to organize one election," the Zimbabwean said in April. "Mr. Zuma should also understand that there is a cost in human lives being lost in Zimbabwe while this procrastination over agreed reforms is going on."

Zuma, overdue to return to Harare to meet with leaders in the unity government, seems preoccupied with political maneuvering at home ahead of a crucial African National Congress conference later this year. A spokeswoman for the South African mediation team said Zuma isn't there to "babysit" the process. Zuma has called for patience, but with elections nearing, political violence mounting, and the country going broke, time is running out.

Robert Mugabe, however, seems to be going strong.


Joseph Mwenda/AFP/GettyImages