As Egypt begins selecting people who will draft a new constitutional, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg had some advice for the fledgling democracy: don't look to the United States for pointers.
Ginsburg told an Egyptian television reporter that the constitutions drafted in the latter half of the 20th century could be useful for a country drafting a new one today.
You should certainly be aided by all the constitution writing that has gone on since the end of World War II, Ginsburg said in an 18-minute interview with Al Hayat TV posted online by the U.S. Embassy in Cairo Wednesday. I would not look to the U.S. Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012.
The examples that sprang to her mind included South Africa in the late '90s, Canada's 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world, Ginsburg said. I'm a very strong believer of listening and learning from others.
Ginsburg's visit marked the anniversary of the Egyptian uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring revolts that toppled several Middle Eastern dictators. The 78-year-old Supreme Court justice met with Egyptian law students, professors and judges to get their perspective on the transition from living under Mubarak's dictatorship to a democracy.
As Egypt gears up for a constitutional convention, Ginsburg advised to include representatives from different backgrounds and parts of the country, noting the groups of people living in America who were excluded from constitutional protection.
Now, it includes people who were left out at that beginning, Ginsburg said of the U.S. Constitution. Native Americans were left out. Certainly, people held in human bondage, women, people who were new comers to our shore.
Ginsburg avoided speaking about the Egyptian experience and using America's 18th century constitution as a template for other countries. But she extolled provisions of America's constitution, the oldest one still in use today.
She touted the three wonderful words that start the constitution, We, the people; freedom of speech and a guarantee of fundamental human rights; a system of checks and balances that ensures an independent judiciary; and the notion that America will strive to be a more perfect union.
When asked for ideas on drafting a constitution, Ginsburg remarked that even a great one is meaningless without support from the people.
A constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom, she said. If the people don't care, then the best constitution in the world won't make any difference. The spirit of liberty has to be in the population.