Ambassador Kosnett’s Remarks for Inaugural Justice Academy Judicial Induction Ceremony, February 18, 2021
Good morning, Director Fejzullahu, Supreme Court President Peci, Kosovo Judicial Council Chair Çoçaj, my colleague Ambassador Szunyog, presidents of the courts, and judges, ladies and gentlemen.
A special welcome and congratulations to Kosovo’s newest judges. As the guardians of democracy, you have been entrusted with a sacred duty—to uphold Kosovo’s Constitution.
I want to also congratulate the people of Kosovo for the recent successful and peaceful election. The people once again have spoken. I urge the winning parties to form a government quickly and efficiently. There is no time for delays when the new government faces so many challenges. Kosovo citizens deserve an effective government that fulfills its full mandate.
No challenge is more urgent and important than fighting the pandemic. I, like all of you, would prefer to join you all in person, but the pandemic has not relented, so neither can we. We must remain cautious and vigilant. Unfortunately, we have not observed this same degree of caution from Kosovo politicians and citizens in the weeks leading up to the election.
I shouldn’t have to remind you that large gatherings with unmasked attendees will worsen an already severe public health crisis. In that vein, I applaud all Kosovo citizens and election observers who braved the pandemic to exercise their right to vote while wearing a mask and taking other necessary precautions.
Like elections, an independent judiciary, enshrined in both the U.S. and Kosovo Constitutions, is a key pillar of democracy. An independent judiciary, a judiciary that does not cower to political pressure, is essential to upholding the rule of law.
You, as judges, are vested with the power to enforce and adjudicate, but this must be rooted in evidence and the law itself. In your work, you must set anything aside that could distract or detract from the pursuit of justice and ensuring a fair system for the people of Kosovo. This is no easy task, and it requires courage. Courage to block out the political noise. Courage to act based on the law, not your own personal or political beliefs.
As you know, the United States recently faced perhaps the most significant constitutional crisis in decades, certainly at least in my generation. In the United States, many had concerns that the Supreme Court might make a decision based on political beliefs. There was speculation that the Supreme Court, which now has a majority of justices appointed by Republican presidents, would hand the election to the outgoing President, despite the inability of supporters to produce evidence of widespread fraud. However, the judges ignored the noise, focused on their jobs, and made decisions by interpreting the law.
This not only happened in the Supreme Court, but in lower courts throughout the country. The lower courts maintained
their independence throughout the election cycle and repeatedly dismissed claims of purported election fraud when the plaintiffs failed to support their assertions. When political activists tried to raise these charges to the Supreme Court, it ultimately unanimously ruled to leave the cases, and the decision, with the lower courts.
This is not the first time that an independent judiciary has served as a check on politics. U.S. history is rife with examples of the judiciary protecting our longstanding democracy. Let us take for example, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, a landmark 1954 Supreme Court case where the justices ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. This decision ruled that all children in the United States, regardless of race, should have equal educational opportunities. It brought us another step forward in a still unfinished pursuit for all citizens to be “equal under the law.”
We can find examples of an independent judiciary in Kosovo as well – cases where judges have shown courage and exercised the powers vested in them, despite political pressure to do
otherwise. One such example is the Constitutional Court decision involving former Kosovo President Jahjaga. The Court resisted immense pressure and upheld the basic, democratic principle of non-retroactivity.
The public’s trust and confidence in you as judges to act independent of political will be the bedrock that grounds your work going forward. Today, as you are inducted as Kosovo’s newest judges, you become the trustees of the public’s confidence and trust, and the guardians of Kosovo’s democracy.
Your future individual and collective actions will reflect not only on you, but on the entire judicial system; and will even extend to how Kosovo is perceived as a country internationally. In some years, it may be your future cases that I am referring to as the exemplars of an independent judiciary.
When I addressed the Annual Prosecutors’ Conference in January, I challenged Kosovo’s prosecutors to maintain the highest standards of integrity and transparency, and to embrace accountability. I ask the same from you today. Hold yourselves, your staffs, your colleagues, and your leaders to the
highest legal and ethical standards. Serve as an example in your professional as well as personal lives. Your courage, impartiality, and transparency when adjudicating cases will be the best reflection of your integrity and trustworthiness to the public.
With your induction to the Justice Academy, you are on the cusp of a great undertaking. When faced with difficult and potentially unpopular decisions down the road, court inaction may seem the path of least resistance. But it is you who hold Kosovo’s democracy in your hands. You have the great responsibility to protect and nourish it for current and future Kosovo citizens.
As U.S. Supreme Court justice Anthony Kennedy once said when faced with a difficult decision that ultimately decided a U.S. election, “Sometimes it is easy…to enhance your prestige by not exercising your responsibility, but that’s not been the tradition of [this] Court.”
As you start your training today, I would like to end my remarks by encouraging the Justice Academy, the Kosovo Judicial Council, and the Kosovo Prosecutorial Council to continue to improve your education and the education of prosecutors and court staff. Only highly experienced instructors with vast experience and knowledge should teach at the academy, for they are nurturing Kosovo’s next generation of guardians of democracy. It is only through education, reflection, and application of lessons learned that the system can improve with each passing year. I encourage you to implement the functional review recommendations as you reform the Justice Academy—it will ensure you have a far-reaching impact.
With all the political turbulence our two countries have faced recently, I am proud that our vibrant democracies still stand together. Neither the United States with its centuries-old democracy, nor Kosovo with its nascent democracy, are immune to political pressure. But as long as our judiciaries remain independent and each new generation pledges to uphold the rule of law, we stand on solid ground.
Congratulations, once again to Kosovo’s newest judges. Thank you for your attention.