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Retired United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, 94, recently toured with his new book, titled, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution. He proposes changes to: the Supremacy Clause of Article VI, political gerrymandering, campaign finance, sovereign immunity, the death penalty, and the second amendment.
What does it take to amend the constitution?
Article V of the Constitution sets forth the process to be followed in amending the Constitution.
The Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution, or, on the application of the legislatures of two thirds of the several states, shall call a convention for proposing amendments, which, in either case, shall be valid to all intents and purposes, as part of this Constitution, when ratified by the legislatures of three fourths of the several states, or by conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other mode of ratification may be proposed by the Congress; provided that no amendment which may be made prior to the year one thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any manner affect the first and fourth clauses in the ninth section of the first article; and that no state, without its consent, shall be deprived of its equal suffrage in the Senate.
They made it difficult to amend the Constitution, but not impossible. After the two-thirds vote in the house, then three-quarters of the states have to also agree.
For a complete list of the six changes Justice Stevens proposes, go here.
Justice Stevens on the Second Amendment
The Second Amendment currently provides:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Justice Stevens has written in several dissenting opinions that our Founding Fathers did not want to maintain a standing army. Thus, their intent was to permit people to keep and bear arms in order to serve in a “well regulated militia,” as needed. They did not intend to create an absolute right to keep and bear arms against neighbors. Since we now have a standing military, there no longer exists any justification to keep and bear arms.
In addition, none of the other rights in the Bill of Rights are absolute, so there is no reason why the Second Amendment should be treated differently.
Justice Stevens’s proposal:
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.
His proposal is consistent with the intent of our Founding Fathers.
Justice Stevens on the Eighth Amendment and the Death Penalty
The Eighth Amendment provides:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Justice Stevens adds five words to this and proposes:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments such as the death penalty inflicted.
He further comments:
For me, the question that cannot be avoided is whether the execution of only an ‘insignificant minimum’ of innocent citizens is tolerable in a civilized society. Given the availability of life imprisonment without the ability of parole as an alternative method of preventing the defendant from committing further crimes and deterring others from doing so, and the rules that prevent imposing an ‘eye for an eye’ form of retributive punishment, I find the answer to that question pellucidly clear. When it comes to state-mandated killings of innocent civilians, there can be no ‘insignificant minimum.’
There are seven general causes of wrongful conviction. Prosecutorial misconduct is one of them. And yet, prosecutors are not held accountable for anything that they do. Not only have innocent people been executed, but the real criminals have gone on to harm and kill. The idea of an acceptable par level of innocent people killed by state sanctioned homicide does not make sense.
Do you agree or disagree with Justice Stevens on these issues, or on the other issues that he proposed in his book? If the constitution were to change, would you, or would you not, support it? Are there other areas in the constitution that you believe deserve consideration?
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Off-topic and unrelated:
Also note — Our power is off, so I will not be here until a bit later.
Public domain photo by Steve Petteway, photographer for the US Supreme Court, via Wikimedia Commons.