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Justice Stevens: Make 6 changes to Constitution



WASHINGTON (AP) -- In the aftermath of the Connecticut school shootings that left 20 first-graders and six educators dead, retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens began thinking about ways to prevent a repeat.

The result is Stevens' new book - his second since retiring from the court at age 90 - in which he calls for no fewer than six changes to the Constitution, of which two are directly related to guns. Others would abolish the death penalty, make it easier to limit spending on elections and rein in partisan drawing of electoral districts.

His proposed amendments generally would overrule major Supreme Court decisions with which he disagrees, including ones on guns and campaign finance in which he dissented.

The book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, is being published Tuesday by Little, Brown and Co., two days after Stevens' 94th birthday.

Stevens said in an interview with The Associated Press that the Newtown, Conn., shootings in December 2012 made him think about doing "whatever we could to prevent such a thing from happening again."

He said he was bothered by press reports about gaps in the federal government database for checking the background of prospective gun buyers. Those gaps exist because the Supreme Court ruled in 1997 that states could not be forced to participate in the background check system. Stevens dissented from the court's 5-4 ruling in Printz v. United States.

One amendment would allow Congress to force state participation in gun checks, while a second would change the Second Amendment to permit gun control. Stevens was on the losing end of another 5-4 decision in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court declared for the first time that Americans have a right to own a gun for self-defense.

He acknowledged that his proposed change would allow Congress to do something unthinkable in today's environment: ban gun ownership altogether.

"I'd think the chance of changing the Second Amendment is pretty remote," Stevens said. "The purpose is to cause further reflection over a period of time because it seems to me with ample time and ample reflection, people in the United States would come to the same conclusion that people in other countries have."

Justices often say that their dissenting opinions are written with the hope that today's dissent might attract a majority on some future court.

But Stevens has gone a step beyond by proposing the constitutional changes. Asked whether the book could in part be seen as "sour grapes," he readily agreed.

"To a certain extent, it's no doubt true, because I do think the court made some serious mistakes, as I did point out in my dissents," he said. "But I've been criticized for making speeches since I retired. Writing the book is not much different from continuing to speak about things I find interesting."

A recent example is the court's decision, again by a 5-4 vote, to strike down limits in federal law on the total contributions wealthy individuals can make to candidates for Congress and president, political parties and political action committees. Stevens said the decision follows from the 2010 ruling in Citizens United that lifted limits on political spending by corporations and labor unions. Again, he was in the dissent in another 5-4 ruling.

Those cases, he said, talk about the importance of public participation in the electoral process. But this month's decision on the overall limits is "not about electing your representative," Stevens said. "It's about financing the election of representatives of other people. It's about the influence of out-of-state voters on the election in your district. It sort of exposes a basic flaw in the recent cases."

Stevens marked his 94th birthday Sunday, still in excellent health, but lately feeling his age. Speaking to AP a few days before his birthday, he said, "It's going to come and pass. I'm not sure it's something to celebrate."

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EMIL MARTINEZ April 21 2014 at 10:05 PM

Sir I respect what you did as a Judge,, you did a grat job all those years, and now it is time for you to move on,, don't change anything some good people fought so hard to implement a long time ago and they have worked well, until some one called Hussein Obummer casme along and walked all over them,, please don't start a war,, because that is exactly what will happen, I for one will not turn my guns in,,,

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Barbara EMIL MARTINEZ April 21 2014 at 10:29 PM

I'll bet you're one of those that think Obama passed the Clean Air Act (Nixon), required the squiggly light bulbs (W Bush). Obama never tried for any gun restrictions 'til after Sandy Hook.

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jbhtonto Barbara April 21 2014 at 11:06 PM

Nixon & W Bush were good Presidents only by comparison to Obama. Fortunately, Obama's post Sandy Hook push for gun control, like the rest of his Presidency was a dismal failure.

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therobbdogg01 April 21 2014 at 9:36 PM

Senility is a wonderful thing. No worries, no values, no responsibility for your actions. Thank God in Heaven, this old, liberal S.O.B. is not on the bench anymore. When only criminals have guns, personal violence escalates. Look at the UK and Austrailia. They took away those peoples gun ownership rights and now they are at the mercy of the criminals and make criminals of the sane gun owners.

There should be a public book burning of this morons book, in his home town, before he dies to show him he's an idiot. "FROM MY COLD, DEAD HANDS"

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sjohn1210 therobbdogg01 April 21 2014 at 9:42 PM

Egads. Book burnings? "From my cold, dead hands?' You're more of a menace to society than Stevens ever will be.

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GUTTS 2 sjohn1210 April 21 2014 at 10:05 PM

YES lets do the book burning

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j445373603 April 21 2014 at 9:34 PM

land to settle thjier debts. US government is taking 83% ownershuip of Wesrterb states rich land in forestery, minerals and grazing. God help us!

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j445373603 April 21 2014 at 9:32 PM

More BS from the left. The only people with gun will be the police,, miliotary and gangs. Thise countries that resrict gun ownership have seen a rise in vilent crimes such as rape, murder and home invasions. The Right better get organized or all will be lost. China is mAKING COUNTRIES AUCTION THEIR GOVERNMENT

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BootslaRue44 April 21 2014 at 9:32 PM

Nobody mess's with our constitution, hands off buddie , take ur liberal idea to russia or africa or some place buddie

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glestan40214 BootslaRue44 April 21 2014 at 9:45 PM

He is wanting to change the amendmants... which are changes to the consitution. Its been changed twice just in the last century.

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1 reply
neutralslamm glestan40214 April 21 2014 at 9:50 PM

I recall PROHIBITION, how well did that work out?

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Jack April 22 2014 at 9:06 AM

the man may be right in some cases, but it doesn't deal with the criminals, who will get guns anyways no matter what

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jwemrw Jack April 22 2014 at 9:22 AM

Give it a rest! Name all the convicted felons that have committed mass murder with a gun in the past 5 years. Then list everyone that has committed mass murder with a gun in the last 5 years that had no previous criminal record. "Criminals" are not the problem - crazed , radical right wing gun nuts are the problem.

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polishparalt jwemrw April 22 2014 at 9:33 AM

...and for every insane right wing nut, there is a delusional left wing crackpot to meet the challenge, and there in lies the heart of the problem....because for the 20% of the people in this country who actually think instead of being a party hack, the 80% ensure that no reasonable change is ever going to take place.....

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Dr. Brower April 22 2014 at 9:10 AM

The term, " ... a well regulated militia ..." is often argued that it is each state's National Guard. However, that is not how it is defined. According to the "Militia Act of 1792" a member of the militia is anyone between the ages of 15 to 55. They are also required to have a long gun with "enough powder and ball for 30-shots" or 30 rounds of ammunition for today's rifles. Each member of the militia is also required to regularly practice with their rifle to maintain their accuracy of fire. If you are a member of, and regularly attend, a church whose teachings include pacifism (i.e. Quakers), then you are exempt.

The "Militia Act of 1792" is a lot like the "Affordable Care Act" (ObamaCare). Both are the law of the land and both carry penalties for our failure to obey them.

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dbrown6242 April 22 2014 at 9:13 AM

By proposing changes, does mr Stevens say that the amendments actually state something the opposit of hs changes?

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Bob April 22 2014 at 9:14 AM

I might pay attention to this if he also suggested an amendment to abolish "Lifetime appointments for Supreme Court Justices.

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johnrslatelaw April 22 2014 at 9:16 AM

The Amendments to the US Costitution should be one eliminating life time appointments for Federal Judges, followed by term limits for all elected officials.

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1 reply
danceez johnrslatelaw April 22 2014 at 9:24 AM

Amen!

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