For many years, John Paul Stevens [Unlink] was the leader of the so-called liberal bloc of the Supreme Court, often assigning the dissenting opinion if he was on the losing side in a Supreme Court ruling. As the senior-most associate justice, he assigned the majority opinion if Chief Justice John Roberts was in the minority. Stevens was also well-known for writing frequently, including concurrent opinions as well as dissenting or majority opinions. Scott Lemieux of The American Prospect praised Stevens for his “fiercely intelligent idiosyncrasies.”
During his long tenure on the bench, Stevens became known for several opinions, including being arguably the biggest proponent of gay rights on the court. Now that he’s been on the sidelines while the rest of his former colleagues deliberate on decisions that could change the course of US law, he been writing about some of his opinions and his experiences on the High Court.
His latest book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change The Constitution” includes his case for adding six new amendments, which include revising the Second Amendment. Writing forcefully as always, Stevens argues that the Founding Fathers intended the Second Amendment to specifically deal with people keeping guns for being part of militias, which were popular during the Revolutionary era.
He suggested adding five words to the Amendment to restore its original intent, suggesting the Amendment should read as follows: “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.”
In making his case for amending the Second Amendment, Stevens referenced two cases in which the Supreme Court curtailed restrictions against gun ownership imposed by Washington, D.C., and Chicago. In the case of McDonald v. Chicago, the court ruled in 2010 that states and local jurisdictions could not curtail gun ownership based on the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which I’ve mentioned previously essentially serves as a “second Bill of Rights” by limiting states in similar ways to the ways the Bill of Rights imposes limits on the national government.
The McDonald decision “exacted a heavy toll,” Stevens wrote “in terms of state sovereignty… Even apart from the States’ long history of firearms regulation and its location at the core of their police powers, this is a quintessential area in which federalism ought to be allowed to flourish without this Court’s meddling. Whether or not we can assert a plausible constitutional basis for intervening, there are powerful reasons why we should not do so.”
Stevens raised an interesting concept with this line of argument, suggesting that even though the court may be constitutionally correct in issuing a ruling, it may not necessarily be the right thing to do. It’s a notion that has been in place for thousands of years, including a biblical passage in 1 Corinthians 6:12 that reads as “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient,” in the King James Bible. Even allowing for the separation of church and state, a separation I firmly believe should be in place, the passage is an important piece of wisdom that the court should take heed of.
Stevens also made a case for adding the death penalty to the Eighth Amendment’s prohibitions against cruel and unusual punishment. In addition, he argued for an amendment that would repeal Citizens United by adding “reasonable” limits to campaign donations, deny sovereign immunity to states, state officials or state agencies. He also proposed specific prohibitions against political gerrymandering by requiring states to use “neutral” criteria such as “natural, political, or historical boundaries or demographic changes” if changing voting districts. Finally, Stevens also suggests an amendment to the so-called supremacy clause in Article VI This Constitution, specifically including “other public officials” as being bound to federal law.
It’s evident from the passages that have been reported that Stevens remains a sharp observer of the court’s impact on American life. Regardless of whether you agree with his opinions, Stevens has earned the respect he received for examining the facts of each case and carefully considering them before rendering those opinions.