WASHINGTON (The Blaze/AP) — The Supreme Court’s midwinter break is often used by justices to fly off to sunny vacation spots or European capitals where they address an audience or two on someone else’s tab. But this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is on a different sort of visit to two North African countries where popular uprisings helped topple longtime leaders. And in one of those countries — Egypt — she raised eyebrows after saying, during a television interview, that she “would not look to the United States Constitution” as a blueprint for crafting the nation’s new constitution.
Ginsburg wrapped up a State Department-sponsored visit to Egypt on Wednesday with a public seminar at the Cairo University law school. The 78-year-old Ginsburg told students she was inspired by last year’s protests that led to the end of Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
“This is the most wonderful time in which to live and be among the young people who are helping your country and bringing about change during this exceptional transitional period to a real democratic state,” Ginsburg said, according to the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. “Think of the people who lived before you and did not have this opportunity because they lived under a dictatorial regime.”
These comments come as many fear the Islamist influence that will come to the region, as the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical groups seize power.
The justice, an appointee of President Bill Clinton, and her daughter, Jane, a legal expert on intellectual property, spent four days in Cairo and Alexandria meeting with judges, legal scholars and students. Egypt is set to start rewriting its constitution next month.
“This gives justices, folks who are writing legislation, folks who are working on court regulations a chance to talk to the most senior American justices and members of the judicial branch about their experiences of a lifetime of working on these kinds of issues, about various ways to solve the problems of checks and balances,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. “And it is a chance for some of these folks, who have less experience in a democratic system, to learn a little bit more about how we do things.”
Ginsburg, though, inspired controversy following her comments, as she seemed to be urging Egyptians to avoid the U.S. Constitution as a model for crafting their own document. The Huffington Post has more:
…while Ginsburg’s interview, posted on YouTube on Wednesday, lauded the Founding Fathers’ “grand general ideas that become more effective over the course of … more than two sometimes-turbulent centuries,” she also said she “would not look to the United States Constitution if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012,” given its original exclusion of women, slaves and Native Americans.
Since World War II several other models have emerged that offer more specific and contemporary guarantees of rights and liberties, she said, pointing to South Africa’s constitution, which she called a “really great piece of work” for its embrace of basic human rights and guarantee of an independent judiciary. She also noted Canada’s charter of rights and freedoms and the European Convention of Human Rights.
“Why not take advantage of what there is elsewhere in the world? I’m a very strong believer in listening and learning from others,” she said.
Below, see her make these statements in an interview with Al Hayat in Egypt (constitution talk starts around 9:30):
Last week before leaving, Ginsburg met with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss the trip.
From Egypt, Ginsburg continued her work with the State Department by heading to Tunisia, where the Arab Spring protest movement had its start. Tunisians recently marked the one-year anniversary of the revolution that ended the dictatorship of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and sparked uprisings around the Arab world.
This story has been updated.