Thursday, January 26, 2012

Justice Breyer Speaks

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer
Yesterday, I had a field trip of sorts with my students. We carpooled to the American Embassy to attend a digital video conference with Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court. It's not every day that someone of his stature sets aside a portion of his day to share with you. So I was really looking forward to the event.

The U.S. Embassy has consistently reached out in various ways to support the masters program in common law at the University of Carthage. In fact it was someone at the Embassy who advised me to consider teaching in the program as a Fulbright Scholar. The Embassy was also instrumental in arranging this event between Justice Breyer and the students. However, the audience also included a few other members of the local legal community.

Justice Breyer appeared on a screen from a conference room at the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., and he chose to speak entirely in French. Because Tunisia is in the process of writing a new constitution, he focused on the distinguishing combination of features that has made the American system work in America. He paid particular attention to the need for an independent judicial branch whose decisions are respected by the general public and the other branches of government even when those decisions are unpopular.

My Masters Students in Common Law
at the University of Carthage
It was a wonderful lesson in civics for me. But he stressed that the American system will not necessarily work anywhere else in the world, including post revolutionary Tunisia. So, even though Tunisians might be able to learn something from the American experience, Tunisians would have to write a constitution that works for Tunisia and it's unique situation.

The students took full advantage of the chance to ask some very penetrating and insightful questions. But the caliber of the questions did not surprise me. In the time I have spent as their professor, I have come to expect nothing less. It only reinforced in my mind why the University of Carthage is often described as the pinnacle of higher education in Tunisia.

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