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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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enielcarey April 22 2014 at 10:49 AM

Justice Stevens suggested constitutional changes would help us move toward a more civil society.

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aristars April 22 2014 at 9:42 AM

No death penalty? I say NO! there are criminals who must be eleminated within no more than two years of proven guilty! the victims must be the ones to decide on the death penality! not a judge, not a politicians! they lost dear ones brutally!!! guns? criminals have no respect to any law or constitution, they know how/where to get guns! so this liberal way of making more laws has proven to be ineffective!

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Bob April 22 2014 at 9:38 AM

Sure do NOT need his help on these subject. He simply wants to given in to the emotion of the subjects, not the reality. How dare he propose the very things that make this country. He's an old man who didn't get his way when he was on the court and is sour about it. None of these would have or will change the environment of this country. The things that need change are mental health laws and treatments, advancing the death penalty (really put away those who have dealt harm to society), and getting government out of our everyday lives - NOT more of their interference.

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raydelv April 22 2014 at 10:58 AM

In the most recent attack at a school the attacker had a knife. Over 20 kids were slashed, do we need to out law knives to? If the government was able to change the 2nd Amendment and take away everybody's gun, are we going to live in a gun free society? Absolutely not, there will be an underground market for them. The Government can't stop the illegal drugs or illegal aliens or human trafficking that comes across our borders and they want to take guns away from people who obey the law. How about draconian, prison sentences for law breakers who carry or use a gun in the commission of a crime. Oh we can't do that because that would be considered cruel and unusual punishment.

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baggersrnutz April 22 2014 at 10:59 AM

Rudy Guiliani is on TV every single day stating " my experience as a prosecutor taught me the as citizens we all need to protect our selves against crime and criminals" Yet the forked toungue pos is a proponent of gun control.

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Mark April 22 2014 at 9:38 AM

Good thing judges don't get to make ammendments to the Constitution.

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Larry April 22 2014 at 9:37 AM

The fact that he opposed having a gun for self defense tells you what you need to know about him. Just another nanny who is into control, with no regard for the safety and well-being of citizens who are preyed on by ruthless perps, just salivating at the chance the homeowner will be left defenseless.

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rdmdmn April 22 2014 at 9:35 AM

United my ass, these states should have been divided during the civil war. Libtards like this one could have had his way, while conservs protected them as a friendly, neighborly gesture.

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screech6010 April 22 2014 at 10:59 AM

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

this guy is a moron. first, just because you ban gun ownership doesn't mean the guns are going away. the bad guys will have guns. they are called bad guys because they don't care about the laws. all he would accomplish is taking away a good persons means of defending themselves when a bad guy or an insane person breaks into there homes. WHY would anybody want to stop someone from being able to protect themselves and their families? On a second note, the motions he was against were passed by other people who believed in your rights to protect yourselves. perhaps we should trust they know what they are doing.

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zegarmj April 22 2014 at 11:00 AM

I guess we’ll need to ban knives also to stem what happened at Franklin Regional High also…….
maybe we’ll ban cars next that kill more then any other weapon………and/or……doctors too…how about other electronic avenues that prompts suicides.
It’s a proven fact that if someone is intent to do you harm they will find a way regardless.
Sometimes I feel that people need to be educated to be this stupid….it''s hards to believe they are all born that way. What an idiot.

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