Great ideas for changing the Constitution

 

Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, a Gerald Ford appointee who retired in 2010 after almost 35 years on the bench, has released a new book that no doubt will infuriate right wingers, irritate Republican leaders in Congress and pull the covers off the conservative majority on the nation’s highest court.

To all that I say, “Hallelujah.”

It’s about time someone of his stature did all that in one fell swoop, while at the same calling on the nation to embrace the Constitution and its cry for liberty, justice and equality.

This past weekend, around the 94th anniversary of his birth and a few days before the release of his book, Stevens talked to reporters about his call for amending the Constitution in six significant ways.

Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution discusses several issues narrowly decided by the Supreme Court over the past 40 years that “have had such a profound and unfortunate impact on our basic law, that resort to process of amendment is warranted.”

In a discussion with Judy Woodruff of PBS NewsHour, Stevens said bluntly that such rulings were “incorrect decisions that were profoundly unwise, and really contrary to a lot of things that our country stands for. And I think they should be changed.”

Among the issues that the former justice suggested were ready for constitutional amendment are gun control, campaign finance, partisan redistricting and my most passionate concern, the death penalty.

Stevens says recent opinions about campaign contributions, framed in the context of freedom of speech, are not what the founders of our nation envisioned.

Specifically about the latest decision that allows individuals to donate to as many candidates as they want in any part of the country, Stevens noted that the plaintiff in the case had contributed to 15 candidates in 2012 but sued to be able to give to 12 more, none running in his home state of Alabama.

It was not about the plaintiff participating in electing his own leaders, Stevens told The New York Times: “The opinion is all about a case where the issue was electing somebody else’s representatives.”

The former justice would change the Second Amendment to allow gun control and would permit Congress to force state participation in gun checks, according to the Huffington Post.

If Stevens had his way, redistricting would be removed from partisan politics in which the dominant party draws congressional and legislative lines to benefit itself and protect its power.

Stevens supported the death penalty for more than 30 years, but his position evolved until 2008 when he was steadfastly against it. He now supports an amendment to abolish capital punishment.

He said the court “has used death penalty litigation to develop rules that make conviction more likely than it should be, the rules governing selection of the jury, for example, rules governing the admissibility of victim-impact evidence at the penalty phase of the trial,” he told the NewsHour’s Woodruff.

He added, “Those rules have slanted the opportunity for justice in favor of the prosecutor. And I think it’s particularly incorrect to do it in the capital context, because the cost is so high. If you make a mistake in a capital case, there is no way to take care of it later.”

Stevens knows it’s hard to amend the Constitution. He says his goal is to get conversation started.

He’s done that.

Bob Ray Sanders is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

©2014 Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • An Idiot’s Guide to Inequality

    We may now have a new “most unread best-seller of all time.”

  • I fought predatory, for-profit schools

    It happened the same way that anyone falls in love: the slow build of excitement, the sheer anticipation of each day propelling you forward, the blind haze of overwhelming joy clouding all reason and logic.

  • Why Germans are angry about U.S. spying

    For most Germans over 50 years old — and that includes most of today’s decision-makers — the word “spying” has a quite specific historic meaning. It conjures up images of the Cold War: pictures of John Le Carré-like exchanges on Glienecke Bridge; memories of “Romeo” spies seducing defense department secretaries in Bonn; and the traumatic downfall of German Chancellor Willy Brandt when it turned out that one of his personal assistants was an East German spy. Spying is thus invariably linked to the past confrontation with the Soviet Union and pre-unification East Germany.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category