Jewish World Review April 28, 2014 / 28 Nissan, 5774
Time for another Constitutional Convention
By Joseph Perkins
JewishWorldReview.com | John Paul Stevens spent 35 years on the Supreme Court, during which span he “evolved,” as his hagiographers put it, from a preponderantly conservative jurist to “one of the court’s most outspoken liberal voices,” as PBS’ Judy Woodruff described him, lovingly.
The former associate justice retired from the high court four years ago, when he turned 90. But the nonagenarian did not go gently into the good night.
In 2011, he wrote his Supreme Court memoir. And, just this month, Stevens dropped his latest book, in which he proposes six constitutional amendments that, to his mind, would make America a better place.
• He would rewrite the Second Amendment to stipulate that only a state’s militia has the right to keep and bear arms, and not those of us who simply want to protect our homes and our families.
• He would similarly rewrite the Eighth Amendment to explicitly declare capital punishment unconstitutionally “cruel and unusual punishment.”
• He would limit campaign contributions by rewriting the First Amendment.
• He would ban gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts by requiring “compact and composed contiguous territory.”
• He would withdraw the sovereign immunity of the 50 states from liability for violating the Constitution or an act of Congress.
• And he would grant Congress new powers to require states to perform federal duties in emergencies.
Stevens recognizes that he almost certainly will not live to see his six proposed amendments added to the Constitution. And that’s not just because he’s 94 years of age. It’s also because of the extremely daunting process for amending the Constitution.
Indeed, a proposed amendment would require a resolution approved by two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate. Then it would require ratification of three-quarters of the 50 states.
So daunting is that process that the Constitution has been amended only 18 times in the past 223 years. That includes the 10 amendments that make up the Bill of Rights.
To pass a half-dozen amendments, as Stevens proposes, in fewer than a hundred years or so requires some serious outside-the-box thinking.
Like invoking – for the first time in U.S. history – the clause in Article V of the Constitution, which specifies that, if two-thirds of state legislatures demand a meet-up, Congress “shall call a convention for proposing amendments.”
As it happens, we just might be on the verge of a Constitutional Convention.
Indeed, while it hasn’t dominated cable news – compared with, say, CNN’s saturation coverage of missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 – Michigan this month appeared to become the 34th state legislature to call for such a convention, which would meet the requirements of Article V.
While most of the amendments proposed by former justice Stevens would be dead-on-arrival at a potential Constitutional Convention, there just might be bipartisan support for one or two – like making states liable for violating the Constitution or an act of Congress or, maybe, banning gerrymandered congressional and state legislative districts.
Meanwhile, a Constitutional Convention could very well result in the addition of several worthy amendments that have been a long time coming. Most notably, a balanced-budget amendment stating that Congress may spend no more each fiscal year than the revenue it brings in.
The prospect of such a requirement being constitutional law rather than statutory law – which both Congress and the president routinely ignore – is what provided much of the impetus for the prospective constitutional amendment.
An amendment that explicitly guarantees Americans the “right to privacy” would be almost as popular as the balanced-budget amendment, in the wake of revelations about the government’s warrantless monitoring of emails, cellphone records, bank transactions, etc.
And a victims’-rights amendment, giving crime victims the same standing before the law as the criminally accused, would also garner substantial support.
It’s been more than two centuries since nation’s lawgivers gathered for a Constitutional Convention. The sequel is long overdue.
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© 2014, Joseph Perkins