Jeff Jacoby

During a visit to Cairo last week, US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked whether she would advise Egyptians drafting a constitution for the post-Mubarak era to look to other countries' basic charters as a model.

Certainly, she said -- but not America's:

"I would not look to the US constitution, if I were drafting a constitution in the year 2012," Ginsburg told an interviewer on Egypt's Al-Hayat TV. "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.... It really is, I think, a great piece of work."

The 78-year-old justice, a mainstay of the court's liberal wing, urged Egyptians to "be aided by all the constitution-writing that has gone one since the end of World War II," and pointed to Canada's 1982 Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Not surprisingly, Ginsburg's comments raised hackles on the right. "Is it too much for a United States Supreme Court justice to have a little reverence for the Constitution of the United States?" Glenn Beck demanded on his radio show. In the conservative newspaper Human Events, John Hayward lamented that instead of "a robust endorsement of American ideals from someone who actually loves and understands this country," what Egypt's TV audience heard was "a mealy-mouthed half-hearted squeak from someone who ... admires the rest of the world for being so much more enlightened than we are." Liberty Counsel announced in a press release: "Ginsburg insulted the US Constitution."

Yet if Ginsburg drew fire for telling Egyptians they were more likely to find inspiration in South Africa's "great" constitution than in the one she took an oath to defend, shouldn't there have been an even greater backlash when another Supreme Court justice sang the praises of the Soviet constitution?

Jeff Jacoby

Jeff Jacoby is an Op-Ed writer for the Boston Globe, a radio political commentator, and a contributing columnist for