Former Supreme Court justice has some great ideas for changing the Constitution

04/22/2014 5:45 PM

04/23/2014 1:22 PM

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 time 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.

About Bob Ray Sanders

Bob Ray Sanders

@BobRaySanders

Bob Ray Sanders is often criticized for writing about things he could not have experienced because, some readers say, "he can't be that old." The truth is Bob Ray has been a professional journalist for 40 years and in three media: newspaper, television and radio.

A Fort Worth native who knows and cares about his community, and those with whom he shares this planet, this is a columnist who is not afraid to speak out on behalf of downtrodden people or the abused Earth.

Email Bob Ray at bobraysanders@star-telegram.com.

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