Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Banal Point, Destroys the Republic

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 3 2012 9:58 AM

Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Banal Point, Destroys the Republic

ELY, Nev. -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg has disturbed the balance of the universe by giving an interview to Egyptian television in which she does not recommend using the U.S. Constitution as a model for post-Mubarak happiness. The whole video is here, and some transcripts are at the link, but this part is the hackle-raiser.

 

Q: Would your honor's advice be to get a part or other countries' constitutions as a model, or should we develop our own draft?
A: 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 U.S. 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? I'm a very strong believer in listening and learning from others.
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If you want, here you go: Proof that a Supreme Court Justice believes looks to other countries for advice on an evolving Constitution! Of course, we've known this about Ginsburg for years, because she's said so repeatedly. It's proof that a SCOTUS justice wouldn't use the American Constitution as a model for a new country -- but, well, neither does anyone who advises new republics about this stuff. Mexico, disastrously, copied our Constitution in 1824; Iraq, less disastrously, went with something. Ginsburg's "diss" of the Constitution makes reference to Constitutions written with the U.S. model already in existence, mined for the best parts. I'm with John Tabin at the link -- I agree that our freedom of speech protections are the best place to start for any other country, and that Canada and South Africa have done citizens wrong with weaker basic rights. But on her main point? I don't see how you could argue the opposite -- all transitional democracies should start with the Constitution we wrote in 1787! -- unless you're writing a Toby Keith song or something. Hell, we're among the countries that have done some constitution-writing since the end of World War II. Ask a sponsor of the Balanced Budget Amendment; more boringly, ask someone who helped institute presidential term limits.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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