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Constitutions: The United States Supreme Court



     I follow with interest and great respect the proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, opinion surveys in many countries show that the supreme court is the most respected arm of government, confirming me in my belief that the long-term perspective for every country must be to have a constitutional separation of head of state and government, with the head of state chosen from among the members of the supreme court. This would ensure general respect for the head of state, a situation which does not prevail in many countries, including the U.S.
     Justice Anthony Kennedy has just met with a group of high school students, clearly among the better members of that class. He answered their questions with sensitive grace; it was a most comforting performance. Some comments are in order, especially, from the WAIS viewpoint, those concerning the world at large.
     Justice Kennedy rightly stressed that the U.S. constitution is the oldest in the world, but that does not mean that the United States is the country where the rule of law is best observed. He rightly said that many constitutions have no meaning because they are just pieces of paper. The U.S. constitution has meaning because it rests on centuries of common law. Simple crime figures show that the rule of law is stronger in countries like England and Canada, although now they recognize the need for a formal constitution.
     In fact, many aspects of the U.S. system baffle outsider, notably the Supreme Court ruling that money is a form of free speech. This means that some individuals have a thousand times more free speech than I do. We are returning to a variant of 18th century rotten boroughs. Many Americans, led by Senator McCain, recognize this, and we are headed for a constitutional crisis.
     Justice Kennedy showed his perception of international affairs when he lamented that Americans show no respect for the Islamic tradition, and that this must change. In fact, this question is reduced to a domestic political one, which will change as the percentage of Muslims in the United States grows.
     Justice Kennedy rightly said that the issue of federalism will become more important in American political life. He should know that it has long been an issue in many countries, Canada, Australia and Argentina, to mention just three.
     There was little mention of international law, which is where much judicial activity will take place in the future. Clearly Justice Kennedy could not cover every subject, but his performance clearly enlightened his attentive young audience.

Ronald Hilton - 12/19/99


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