From the Middle East Media Research Institute, excerpts from an interview that aired Monday on Al-Hayat TV with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg:
I met with the head of the elections commission. I think that the first step has gone well, and that elections have been held for the lower house that everyone has considered to be free and fair. So that’s one milestone, and the next will be the drafting of a constitution.
I can’t speak about what the Egyptian experience should be, because I’m operating under a rather old constitution. The United States, in comparison to Egypt, is a very new nation, and yet we have the oldest written constitution still in force in the world.
Let me say first that a constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom. If the people don’t care, then the best constitution in the world won’t make any difference. So the spirit of liberty has to be in the population, and then the constitution – first, it should safeguard basic fundamental human rights, like our First Amendment, the right to speak freely, and to publish freely, without the government as a censor.
You should certainly be aided by all the constitution-writing that has gone one since the end of World War II. I would not look to the US constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the constitution of South Africa. That was a deliberate attempt to have a fundamental instrument of government that embraced basic human rights, had an independent judiciary… It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done. Much more recent than the US constitution – Canada has a Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It dates from 1982. You would almost certainly look at the European Convention on Human Rights. Yes, why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world?
Ginsburg, of course, gets one of nine votes on the functional meaning of the US Constitution. That she thinks the age of the constitution she’s charged with interpreting make it deficient relative to newer constitutions is kind of shocking, particularly in the context of her praise for the rights enshrined in the First Amendment — rights that, in practice, are protected far less robustly in South Africa or Canada or Europe than they are in the US. On the other hand, given her style of interpretation, it’s kind of not shocking at all.
(Hat-tip: Weasel Zippers)