Breyer: Next Tunisian Constitution Must Meet Needs of Tunisians

By Phillip Kurata | Staff Writer | 22 July 2011

Stephen Breyer (AP Images)U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

Washington — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has told a gathering of constitutional scholars in Tunis that it is vital that the next Tunisian Constitution have the support of the Tunisian people.

“The result of your efforts [to draft a new constitution] must be Tunisian,” Breyer said via satellite from Boston to a group of scholars in Tunis July 22. “You must have a system that responds to the needs of Tunisia.”

Speaking in French, he urged the scholars gathered in Tunis to seek out the views of all sectors of Tunisian society because it is important that the Tunisian people feel that they have “participated” in the drafting of their constitution.

Breyer praised the example of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, for his extensive research on all forms of constitutional government before adopting a constitution that met Turkey’s needs. A Turkish constitutional scholar participated in the deliberations in Tunis, which were transmitted via a digital video conference sponsored by Almadanya, a Tunisian group devoted to development, and the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.

Breyer listed five points of paramount importance for the next Tunisian Constitution. It should:

1. Establish a state that governs by laws, not arbitrarily.

2. Create a democratic system that enacts laws that reflect the will of the people.

3. Protect the basic liberties of men and women.

4. Guarantee equality.

5. Provide for the separation of powers of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government.

Connected to the fifth point, Breyer said he is opposed to the election of judges because elected judges are prone to be influenced by the people who fund their election campaigns. He said a judicial system in which judges are appointed has greater independence. At times, judges make unpopular rulings that protect unpopular people, Breyer said.

The U.S. justice also recommended that the next Tunisian Constitution lay out general principles and avoid precise formulas. He said the constitutional concepts of equality, freedom and due process of law are general principles that do not change, but the circumstances of society do change. Interpreting and applying general principles to current circumstances is the job of the U.S. Supreme Court, the justice said.

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