Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The One Legal Book Everyone Should Read This Summer

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My household is abuzz over retired Justice John Paul Stevens' book, Six Amendments: How And Why We Should Change the Constitution. (Little, Brown & Co.) Run, don't walk to your nearest bookstore or Amazon, and plunk down the $20 or so it will take to buy it.

This is a first. This is the first time a retired Supreme Court Justice has published a manifesto, if you will, on our Constitution. And in my humble opinion, this book, while short, opens a much needed dialogue on the need for Constitutional change by amendment in this county.

The book is short and covers a number of topics, campaign finance, gerrymandering and perhaps the most important, and most controversial, the death penalty and the right to bear arms.

Stevens would add words to the Second Amendment to read, "the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the militia shall not be infringed."

He writes:

Emotional claims that the right to possess deadly weapons is so important that it is protected by the federal Constitution distort intelligent debate about the wisdom of particular aspects of proposed legislation designed to minimize the slaughter caused by the prevalence of guns in private hands.

[For 200 years], federal judges uniformly understood that the right protected by the [2nd Amendment] text was limited in two ways: first, it applied only to keeping and bearing arms for military purposes, and second, while it limited the power of the federal government, it did not impose any limit whatsoever on the power of states or local governments to regulate the ownership or use of firearms.

Going further, Justice Stevens repeats the comment from Chief Justice Warren Burger (1969-1986), about the gun-lobby's campaign to oppose gun control laws because of Second Amendment rights:

“one of the greatest pieces of fraud—I repeat, fraud—on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.” [quoting Burger]

He would also end the death penalty, adding it to the prohibitions on "excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment."

In addition, he proposes the legalization of marijuana. And while this is is some ways less controversial than the right to bear arms, for many, it continues to be a hot button issue,

The process of amending our Constitution is an arduous one.It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress or state legislatures to propose an amendment and three-fourths of the legislatures to approve it.

Appointed to the Supreme Court by President Gerald Ford in 1975, Stevens was considered to be a moderate in his views. In fact, On the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, John Paul Stevens had a moderately conservative record. Over the his term as Justice, the Supreme Court moved toward the right so much that by his retirement, Stevens was considered by many to be a liberal. However, as late as 2007, when asked, Stevens still considered himself to be a judicial conservative.

Agree or disagree, Justice Stevens opens the door further discussion on these issues at a time when for many, these issues are in the forefront of family discussion. As we seek to make our own opinions known, it is important to become as educated as possible on these issues to add something of value to the conversation beyond the usual bluster.

copyright/all rights reserved Audrey Howitt 2014