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4 Potential Constitutional Amendments Recommended by Former Justice Stevens

4 Potential Constitutional Amendments Recommended by Former Justice Stevens

Serving 35 years on the Supreme Court, former Justice John Paul Stevens has had a front row seat for many of the United States’ most intense legal battles. From this position, Stevens witnessed a number of problems plaguing the country that the highest court could not — or would not — fix.

However, Stevens only had the ability to interpret the law, not create it. Still, his experience has inspired him to suggest a handful of Constitutional Amendments that he believes would put the country back on the right track, including:

 

1. Limiting Campaign Finance

The First Amendment should not be interpreted to stipulate that money equals speech and therefore individuals and corporate entities can spend unlimited amounts of money on American elections. States and Congress should be permitted to put sensible restrictions on campaign donations.

Why is it a problem?

This is an issue that Stevens has been gravely concerned about since the moment Citizens United passed in 2010. Writing a passionate dissent for the infamous case, Stevens warned that comparing corporate money and influence to human speech would have major consequences for the country.

Indeed, Stevens’ projections were correct: Citizens United has wreaked utter havoc on our political system. This dark money has completely changed the way elections are run and has given corporations even further control of Washington D.C.

 

2. Banning the Death Penalty

The 8th Amendment, which already forbids “cruel and unusual punishments,” should now include the clause “such as the death penalty.”

Why is it a problem?

Shortly after retiring from the bench, Stevens went on the record as being opposed to the death penalty. Though he was previously in favor of capital punishment, he came to see it as an unfair punishment in a racist system often influenced by personal politics rather than the evidence at hand.

Stevens is not alone in calling for a stop to the death penalty. Opponents of the practice have also pointed out that innocent people have been erroneously killed, the death penalty does not appear to deter crime, defendants with inadequate legal counsel representation are more likely to be sentenced to death, and the cost to execute is significantly higher than someone serving life in prison.

 

3. Forbidding Gerrymandering

Redrawn districts must be “compact and composed of contiguous territory.” States that do not adhere to these guidelines would have to prove that changes are fair and neutral based on “natural, political, or historical boundaries.” Attempts to redistrict to keep specific politicians and parties in power would be explicitly forbidden.

Why is it a problem?

Stevens hit the nail on the head with this one: gerrymandering is killing democracy in the United States. Politicians have successfully used this overlooked ploy to actually steal and rig elections.

Because redistricting has been used to ensure predetermined outcomes anyway, in many districts, no one even bothers to run against the presumed winner, leaving the races uncontested. The powers that be have not only eliminated a chance at fair elections, but also the illusion of fair elections altogether.

 

4. Promoting Reasonable Gun Control

The 2nd Amendment should stipulate that “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” applies to citizens serving in a militia as the writers of the Constitution originally intended.

Why is it a problem?

After a rash of mass shootings, the majority of Americans are now calling for stricter gun laws. Though it seems like common sense to put some limitations on who can own a gun and how much ammunition a person needs for personal protection, the existing wording of the Constitution is interpreted to mean that any limitations are an infringement.

Stevens’ suggestion wouldn’t forbid guns altogether, just allow for some wiggle room when it comes to creating rational gun control measures.

 

To learn more about Justice Stevens’ proposed amendments, you can read his book “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution,” scheduled for release on April 22.

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153 comments

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6:10PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

I fully agree with former Justice Stevens. Two of the points he wants to change, gerrymandering and campaign finances, would bring us some normalcy that has been absent from the political landscape for a long time. Death penalty and gun control are humane issues which, in my opinion, are very important. The US is the only highly industrialized country that still has a death penalty and in which thousands of mostly innocent people are gunned down per year. I also believe that the point Janet E. mentions is a good: Term limits for Supreme Court Justices.

5:54PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

Excellent recommendations by former Justice John Paul Stevens for Constitutional amendments. An impressive list.

Certainly the act of gerrymandering is nefarious and undemocratic as the right wing well knows.

Here is Freddy R and his "maintain arms and ammunition at all times..." Always have to get a word in for those guns, don't you? Very true, Cathleen K.

Excellent contribution, Kevin B. Robert H, perhaps some who served in the military are always looking for 'commies under the bed,' lol. (I said some, as there are liberals who have served in the military as well.)

5:54PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

JACarlton A, please don't leave on account of the noise. (There was an excellent suggestion by Alieen C. We need strong voices speaking out against the nonsense of the right wing that sometimes permeates to spread the word of faux news here.

Marianne C, some Americans do live outside the of U.S. It's hard to say if Freddy R is from Costa Rica or from New York as the hometown is not filled out, however your knowledge of political matters is impressive. One also can be from another country and know more than some Americans when it comes to how your political system works, however, Freddy R seems to be quite the advocate of gun ownership and right wing diatribes.

5:53PM PDT on Mar 15, 2014

John H, let's hope that Debbie T only has access to gun powder and not real bullets. Even access to the gun powder is scarey enough.

John M pontificates: "I only see this article as promotion for this person's new book.Our Constitution should be left alone. I am sure those that wrote it also had the changing future in mind."

Why leave a Constitution alone if it can be improved upon in the future? People from centuries ago had no clue about how things can change in the present century, especially given how swiftly things change with technology. If they could see the present situation with guns they would no doubt be shaking their heads.

7:43AM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

thanks

4:13AM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

ty

9:28PM PDT on Mar 12, 2014

Thank you.

3:32PM PDT on Mar 11, 2014

Excellent Marianne

12:29PM PDT on Mar 11, 2014

Totally agree, but there needs to be a 5th one. Term limits to Supreme Court Justices. Right now we have a Supreme Cort that is TOTALLY clueless to anything past 1970. We need Justices that have science knowledge, technology knowledge and not just the laws from the past. In order for anything/ anybody can move forward, you have to remove the people whom are causing you to go 2 steps back. Many previous Presidents have made that same statement.

10:32AM PDT on Mar 11, 2014

Well, dang. I don't know where the end of that went.

It said:

"The Sedition Act of 1798 defines “seditious writings” as:

“To write, print, utter or publish, or cause it to be done, or assist in it, any false, scandalous, and malicious writing against the government of the United States, or either House of Congress, or the President, with intent to defame, or bring either into contempt or disrepute, or to excite against either the hatred of the people of the United States, or to stir up sedition, or to excite unlawful combinations against the government, or to resist it, or to aid or encourage hostile designs of foreign nations.”

Which mind of makes you wonder whey all of Fox News isn’t standing in front of a firing squad!"

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