Anthony Lester, human rights advocate, Harvard Law School graduate and member of the British parliament sat down with The Atlantic‘s Jonathan Peters this weekend for an interview in which he shared his thoughts and experiences on the rights guaranteed by the 1st Amendment and how they have been exported and expounded upon oversees. In the interview, which can be read in its entirety here, Lester tackles several issues, including the recognition of foreign libel settlements, hate speech, Wiki-Leaks as journalism and the seemingly great amount of danger faced by journalists today.
What I found most interesting was Lester’s observations on the American legal systems emphasis on give and lack of take when it comes to the exchange of ideas with our international partners. As Lester said:
The problem is that the trade in legal ideas is not a two-way trade. American ideas are for export, and there’s very little effort in the U.S. legal system to import ideas. With respect to constitutional issues involving human rights, it’s virtually impossible to persuade a majority of the U.S. Supreme Court to look at case law from other countries. The political and legal influence of the United States has been profound in favor of human rights around the world. American ideas have inspired the rest of the world. But jurists in the U.S. are not ready to be inspired by others.
What is it that fuels this refusal to be inspired? Shortsightedness? Hubris? Or is there an honest consensus, born out of rigorous assessment of empirical data, that we have nothing to learn? I don’t know, but I sincerely doubt that the latter is the case.