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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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.
You 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?