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Post image for Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Calls For Six New Constitutional Amendments

Retired Justice John Paul Stevens Calls For Six New Constitutional Amendments

by Jean Ann Esselink on March 6, 2014

in Analysis,Jean Ann Esselink,Legal Issues,Michael Talon,News

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has a new book out,  Six Amendments: How And Why We Should Change The Constitution, with some really outstanding ideas.

The publisher says of the book:

For the first time ever, a retired Supreme Court Justice offers a manifesto on how the Constitution needs to change.

SIX AMENDMENTS is an absolutely unprecedented call to arms, detailing six specific ways in which the Constitution should be amended in order to protect our democracy and the safety and wellbeing of American citizens.”

Any constitutional amendment is an impossible dream, of course. It requires two-thirds of the members of both houses of congress and then has to be ratified by three-fourths of the states. The country couldn’t even pass an amendment saying women have the same rights as men, hard to see red states and blue states agreeing on any significant change.

But it is still a tantalizing possibility.

Here are Justice Stevens six great ideas by Josh Blackman, a critic of Justice Stevens who reviewed the book. When you read #1 think Rick Perry refusing to allow same-sex military spouses to apply for benefits or the Missouri legislature considering a law allowing the arrest of any law enforcement agent attempting to enforce federal gun laws. The rest are fairly straight forward.

  1. The “Anti-Commandeering Rule” (Amend the Supremacy Clause of Article VI) This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges and other public officials. in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.
  2.  

  3. Political Gerrymandering – Districts represented by members of Congress, or by members of any state legislative body, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory. The state shall have the burden of justifying any departures from this requirement by reference to neutral criteria such as natural, political, or historical boundaries or demographic changes. The interest in enhancing or preserving the political power of the party in control of the state government is not such a neutral criterion.
  4.  

  5. Campaign Finance – Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.
  6.  

  7. Sovereign Immunity – Neither the Tenth Amendment, the Eleventh Amendment, nor any other provision of this Constitution, shall be construed to provide any state, state agency, or state officer with an immunity from liability for violating any act of Congress, or any provision of this Constitution.
  8.  

  9. Death Penalty- (Amend the 8th Amendment) Excessive Bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.
  10.  

  11. The Second Amendment – (Amend the 2nd Amendment) A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

bookYou can see by his amendment wish list that there’s a reason Justice Stevens was known as the “Liberal Lion” of the Court.

I would gladly embrace any one of Justice Stevens suggestions. But it struck me that the one change we need to make before we could possibly address the other five is and end to gerrymandering.

The reality is, we will never end the practice of carving up states into safe red or blue districts on a national level. The men and women who benefit from it will never let that happen. But we might be able to do it state by state. Once that was done, the rest might be possible.

We complain about it enough. But I have never heard of a grass roots campaign to change the way even a single district has been drawn.

Why haven’t we tried?

 

 

Photo via Wikipedia 

 

 

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{ 17 comments }

mikeincleveland March 6, 2014 at 2:31 pm

well, one of these also means that since some state AG's are ignoring federal law for pro-gay causes in some cases, that they would be prohibited from doing so- in force.

hoffmakd March 6, 2014 at 2:32 pm

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-moulthrop/ho

"…there have been three significant attempts at redistricting reform in the past seven years, all failed: Issue 2 last November ballot, Reform Ohio Now in 2006, and an ill-fated legislative push, back when the GOP controlled the State Senate and Dems who thought they knew better controlled the House."

We are trying!

marcp01 March 6, 2014 at 2:46 pm

Why the hell did you leave SCOTUS John Stevens? Oh, you were 89. I guess that's a good enough excuse.lol 93 and still sharp as a razor. I would campaign for all of these amendments.

SimonFieno March 6, 2014 at 5:58 pm

Maybe so he'd have time to write the book before he leaves us, but I agree that a clear thinker like this guy would be a great replacement for Thomas, Scalia, Alito, Roberts and even Kennedy.

James_M_Martin March 6, 2014 at 8:02 pm

This is just an outstanding plan for change. I always thought of Justice Stevens as nothing more than a swing vote on the SCOTUS. Now, it appears he is far more than I ever imagined. Not having read his book — and I intend to — I cannot say, but I would imagine he acknowedges the difficulties of actually amending the constitution in the ways he suggests. Also, the document is a kind of Pandora's Box: once you start tampering with it, there can be unintended consequences.

Merv9999 March 7, 2014 at 1:01 am

I would add a few more. First, I would make the right to privacy explicit in the Constitution. Second, I would restrict asset forfeiture. Finally, I would add some sort of balanced budget amendment. Yes, I realize a balanced budget amendment is the right wing's wet dream, but I think fiscal responsibility should transcend politics. Such an amendment might have prevented Bush's reckless tax cuts and military spending increases, which we are still feeling the effects of.

Xanstar March 7, 2014 at 5:59 am

An amendment stating unequivocally the absolute separation of matters of faith from matters of government would be helpful as well. Many of the laws that have been passed recently regarding women's health care, LGBT rights, and education have been argued for and passed on the strength of biblical-based arguments. Such "rationale" has no place in an advanced society.

Glockslinger March 11, 2014 at 6:05 pm

That was originally the intent behind the First Amendment's action; to establish no national religion, hence all of the non-legal standards that go along with them. As with many arguments on the Constitution, poorly chosen wording has led to much confusion. In the Federalist and in their private writings, both Jefferson and Madison, the actual author of the amendment, stated that its intended effect was a "separation of Church and State," yet those were not the words they chose. Instead, with images of the Church of England dancing in their heads, they thought that simply forbidding the establishment of an official state religion, and all that goes along with such a thing, would be a sufficient bulwark against theocracy. Today we see that it does no such thing; that individuals serving in office are conflicted by their oath of office and what they feel are their religious duties, and they willingly forego the former in favor of the latter. To me, I say that they're O-OK living their religion, but that their unwillingness to "leave it at the door" makes them unsuitable for office. They need to find new jobs. (And maybe join the priesthood.)

empresstrudy March 7, 2014 at 10:22 am

Or we could just tear the thing up and let Obama rule like a God. Chris Matthews is reporting 93% of Democrats are in favor of it.

Tom_Beebe March 10, 2014 at 3:36 pm

How about this one?
TOM BEEBE’S AMENDMENT

No candidate for the Presidency or either house of Congress shall accept contributions in cash or in kind from any organization or group of persons for expenses incurred in a campaign for that office. All such contributions shall be made only by individual citizens who shall attest that the funds or other items of value are from their own resources and that they have not received, nor have they been promised, offsetting items of value from any other party in exchange for their contribution. The identity and extent of contributors to such campaigns shall be made public for a period of thirty days from receipt before being employed or used as collateral for a loan by such campaigns. Organizations of any type may, without restriction, expend money to advocate a position on any issue before or likely to come before the electorate insofar as no candidate’s name or description is included in their expressions of advocacy.

COMMENT

{The intent of the above is to bring “transparency” to campaign financing by removing any group from the process whereby that group may conceal the identity of an individual contributor, as well as limiting the influence of such groups or “special interests”. It further prevents an organization from making such contributions when an individual within that organization, such as a union member or corporation stockholder, may oppose the candidate. The power of a group is greater than the sum of the power of the individuals within it; excluding groups prevents their use as a means of concentrating power and thereby according a greater say in elections to a member of a group above that of the individual citizen. Consider also the large equity position in certain corporations that the federal government has recently taken in response to the economic crises, this is particularly important in excluding government officials from their own electoral process. The money from “special interest” groups will then go to promote that for which they exist, their “special interest”. The media will be directed to expositions on the issues facing the electorate, thus enhancing discussion and hopefully understanding of issues, bereft of personalities. The influence of those with greater wealth is addressed by their exposure through listing, indicating what the electorate may consider undue influence.

What would be the role of political parties under this amendment? Perhaps open elections, with no party candidates listed would not be a bad thing. Anyone gathering enough names on a petition, perhaps 10% of the number of voters for that position in the last election, could be listed.
To those advocating public financing I would suggest that with money comes control. Do we want government control of the electoral process? Are there problems with this proposal? Certainly; it is offered as an amendment to assure it will be thoroughly debated, for that is what the amendment process provides, and in recognition that it does indeed infringe on freedom of speech and of the press, two freedoms not to be compromised lightly.}

Michael G. Morris March 11, 2014 at 2:47 pm

You do what Wolf-Pac is doing to get money out of politics: get state legislatures to call for a Constitutional Convention until enough pressure is felt that a convention happens or Congress realizes it has to act. They also understand this is going to be years in the making.

I recommend a plan I call "Straighten Out Congress: No More Crooked Districts" – congressional districts would be divided by only straight N-S or E-W lines to create equally populated districts using a simple, standard formula. I don't know whom it would benefit district by district, but I think it would certainly benefit the American people.

Glockslinger March 11, 2014 at 5:53 pm

This article had me nodding until that last stinkburger about the 2nd Amendment. The problem here is the justice's definition of "militia," which liberals today have confused with the regular armed forces. (A silly notion that we'd need a specific constitutional amendment to say that the army can be armed — LOL!) In fact, the term "militia" specifically divides paid, professional soldiers from armed citizens. So, in essence, simply owning a firearm would denote "serving in the militia."

What our wrongheaded, "I know better than you" justice meant, then, was "the right of citizens to keep and bear arms shall only apply to military service." Again, I would disagree, but it appears that was the intent.

robertsgt40 March 12, 2014 at 4:38 pm

Looking at 1,4 and 6, we're lucky this old goat was turned out to pasture before he did some real damage.

Rootstriker56 March 17, 2014 at 7:34 am

He wasn't "turned out;" he retired.

6 would actually allow regulation of the arms race taking place on American streets. It's more in line with the original intention of the 2nd Amendment which was about national security, not personal security or armed revolution.

Rootstriker56 March 17, 2014 at 7:31 am

These six proposed amendments do nothing to resolve the problem of corporate personhood. Add to this list:

"In all instances wherein the words “person,” persons,” and “people” appear in this constitution, such words shall be construed to define living human beings only."
http://www.amendmentgazette.com/human-rights-amen

aicram62 March 22, 2014 at 10:53 am

Regarding Gerrymandering: Wouldn't it be better if there were NO DISTRICTS AT ALL? http://brve.us " How would that work?" Well it's called CHOICE of REPRESENTATION and it means whoever you vote for, represents you. That's right Liberals and conservatives alike get their representative. "Well then what happens?" Then we add up the votes and see how many each candidate/representative received, and those are their power points for congress. To pass a bill they have to make friends with other people in congress and put their points together. (amount to pass a bill to be determined) "How many representatives could hold seats?" Ideally the constitution has answered that 1:30,000 population. We recommend dividing each states population by 30,000 for a total for that state. And whereas we do not recommend electronic voting to CHOOSE the representatives, we do believe the representatives can vote electronically for work because we can all see their votes and they can call in and correct an incorrect vote. Therefore the thousands of representatives do not all have to be in congress together. see link above for more.

Cowboy_Bob April 3, 2014 at 2:31 pm

As for #6, my understanding is that at the time of the founding or our nation, "militia" included all able-body males between 18 & 40-something years of age. Not sure if these laws were ever repealed or modified. In any event, such a rule regarding ownership of firearms would place the burden of "protecting" individuals on the state, i.e. the police, which no one wants. It would require police to be "guards" rather than peace officers as understood by English Common Law. Get hurt by a criminal with a gun, and you can sue the state for not protecting you, since they prevented you from protecting yourself in a like manner.

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