09 February 2012

Supreme Court Justice says U.S. constitution is dated

This will set the teeth of right-wing Americans on edge. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in an interview on Egyptian television, said she wouldn't recommend using the U.S. Constitution as a model for Egypt's new constitution.

When asked where the Egyptians should look for a model, she advised them to look around, particularly at constitutions written more recently, saying "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. ... It really is, I think, a great piece of work that was done." She even mentioned our Charter of Rights and Freedoms as a more contemporary example.

This will no doubt be considered heresy in certain circles in the U.S. but it is really just sensible. All she is saying is that there are other models, possibly  superior ones, certainly more modern ones, that could serve Egypt better than the U.S. model. After all, the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787 (albeit with later amendments tacked on), a time when the country still practiced slavery and "all men are created equal" meant just that—all men.

Of particular importance is that the American Constitution omits the most essential rights of all—as does ours for that matter—rights to the basic necessities: food and shelter, and in a modern society, health and education. (It does a citizen little good to have freedom of speech if he is starving or dying of a curable disease.) The South African Constitution goes a long way to providing these basic guarantees. Section 27 ensures: "the rights to food, water, health care and social assistance, which the state must progressively realize within the limits of its resources." It also includes a very modern right indeed in Section 24: "the right to a healthy environment and the right to have the environment protected."

Lacking such provisions, the U.S. Constitution is indeed showing its age. Perhaps the Americans should join the Egyptians in checking out some more up-to-date models.

1 comment:

  1. In the early 70's when I studied in the States we were taught that the US was among the oldest countries on earth. Oldest in the sense of the number of years since it had undergone any major constitutional reformation. Back then this was taken as a sign of the invincible superiority of the country rather than the atrophy of its constitutional dynamic.