Amid fresh clashes in Egypt, the U.S. Embassy in Cairo has posted an Alhayat TV interview of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She traveled to the region last month in coordination with the State Department to meet Egyptian counterparts as they begin the nation’s constitutional transition.
“It is a very inspiring time, that you have overthrown a dictator, and that you are striving to achieve a genuine democracy,” the U.S. Supreme Court associate justice says. “So I think people in the United States are hoping that this transition will work, and that there will genuinely be a government of, by, and for the people.”
She says that after meeting with the head of the election commission, she was pleased to see that the recent elections in Parliament’s lower chamber were considered free and fair.
“Let me say first that a Constitution, as important as it is, will mean nothing unless the people are yearning for liberty and freedom.,” Ginsburg, 78, says in the Jan. 30 interview. “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. ”
Asked by the English-speaking interviewer whether she thought Egypt should use the Constitutions of other countries as a model, Ginsburg said Egyptians should be “aided by all Constitution-writing that has gone on since the end of World War II.”
“I would not look to the U.S. Constitution, if I were drafting a Constitution in the year 2012. I might look at the Constitution of South Africa,” says Ginsburg, whom President Clinton nominated to the court in 1993. “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.”
Ginsburg, who spent her career before taking the bench advocating for gender equality, praised the U.S. Constitution and the founders, saying, “we were just tremendously fortunate in the U.S. that the men that met in Philadelphia were very wise.” But “it’s true that they were lacking one thing, that is there were no women as part of the Constitutional Convention, but there were women around who sparked the idea.”
Ginsburg said “we are still forming the more perfect union” and noted that “when the Constitution was new in the 1780s, we still had slavery in the U.S.”
But, she added, ”The genius of the Constitution, I think, is that it has this notion of who composes ‘We the people’. It has expanded and expanded over the years so now it includes people who were left out in the beginning. Native Americans were left out, certainly people held in human bondage, women, and people that were new comers to our shores. “