Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Justice Ginsburg Visits

Last Friday, my students had the privilege of hosting U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Her visit came just ten days after the students were treated to a video conference with Justice Breyer at the U.S. Embassy. I suppose that's the kind of attention you get when you are the only students getting a degree in American law in a country that's in the process of writing a new constitution. Whatever the reason, the students are making the most of their apparent celebrity status.

The event capped off a trip to Egypt and Tunisia where Justice Ginsburg met with local judges and scholars. This particular occasion was an informal one where she invited the students to ask questions. Most focused on the role that a judge plays in the development of legal rules in a common law system like the one in the U.S. It's a topic we spend a lot of time discussing in the two courses I am teaching. Although the students might have something to gain from my experience as an attorney and professor, there's no substitute for the insights of an actual jurist. So the conversation with Justice Ginsburg was a valuable complement to the discussions we have in class.

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice
Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Me
Members of the local press covered the event. One journalist asked Justice Ginsburg what it was like to be selected as one of the 100 most powerful women in the world. The judge assumed that her name appeared on the list because of her position on the court, and she admitted that she would not have her job if fortune did not work in her favor. Her answer made me recall the conversation I had with her before the program got going.

During our chat, she seemed genuinely interested in the work I am doing and wondered what it must be like to be doing it at a time when the country is undergoing so much change. I didn't offer an answer to that question. But I did tell her that it was not the kind of experience I anticipated. Between the time I applied for the job and the day I started work, Tunisia gave birth to the Arab Spring and found itself charting a course for its future while the rest of the world watches to see what will happen next. In my mind, I have to give some credit to the angels of fortune for putting me where I am today.

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