liberal/left is forever releasing trial balloons to see who shoots at them and
who doesn’t. The multiple interviews of retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul
Stevens upon publication of his new book, Six
Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, on April 22nd,
represent one such balloon. I have not yet read the book, but have ordered it
and will review it in a future column. But the lubricious reception of
Stevens's book and the unrestrained fawning over him by the press is such that I
can't hold my tongue. So these remarks will focus on the interviews, and not
the book per se.
book would not be reviewed, nor Stevens even interviewed, but for the liberty-destroying
amendments he proposes be made to the Constitution. Liberal
"journalists" across the spectrum sidled up to the buffet and feasted
on helpings of the retired liberal, pro-government power justice's fare of
senile lunacy, washed down with large draughts of Happy Juice.
the interviewers treated Stevens as a kind of judicial "guru" whose
"wisdom" must be shown deference and couldn't be challenged or
questioned without committing a heinous faux
pas. They asked him leading questions to prompt the answers they wanted to
hear from Stevens. For example, in the video on the NRO
site, George Stephanopoulos asks Stevens about the five words Stevens would
add to the "amended" Second Amendment: "…the right of the people
to keep and bear arms [when serving in
the militia] shall not be infringed."
"militia" meaning the National Guard or virtually any federal SWAT or
armed enforcement entity. It means that the government would have a monopoly on
that take away any limits what a legislature could do to the rights of gun
Stevens: "I think that's
probably right." [Still of rows of hand guns] "I think that's what
should be the rule, that it should be legislatures rather than judges who draw
the line on what is permissible…." (Italics mine)
Stephanopoulos: "Do you
think that….clearly…that was what was intended?"
Stevens: "I do think that
was what was originally intended, because there was a fear among the original
framers that the federal government would be so strong that they might destroy
the state militias. The amendment would merely prevent arguments being made that Congress doesn’t have the power to do
what is in the best public interest." [More "scary" images
of weapons; Italics mine]
Stephanopoulos: "But to be
clear, if Congress passed a national ban on individual gun ownership, that
would be constitutional under your amendment?"
Stevens: "I think that's
an argument that questions Congress's power to enforce gun-control? Stow it.
Stevens's amendment forbids you to make it. Are you against the "public
interest," or what, you unpatriotic American!
amendment makes no sense at all. The right to bear arms as a private citizen either is or isn't "infringed." If it
is infringed upon, then the only time
you can exercise your "right" is when you're working for the government
enforcing the government's will at gunpoint (lawfully or unlawfully). Then,
when the task is completed, you would hand the weapon you used back to the
armorer. You may "bear" the arms, but not own it.
it isn't infringed upon, then you may
own and "bear arms," certainly without leave of the authorities, and without
having to serve in any government policing or military force. Period.
Stevens's secret, unspoken thought at that point: Thank you, Mr. Stephanopoulos, for putting those words in my mouth. I
couldn't have said it better myself. What an instance of evasion by Stevens!
What an example of prompting by Stephanopoulos! But this is his usual interrogative
habit: acting like a theatrical prompter
cueing Stevens on the right lines.
the Framers' time, state militias were drawn from a population of armed
citizens. Stevens can't have been ignorant of this fact. What the Framers had
in mind when including that amendment was not only the ability of states to
protect their sovereignty from federal power, but also the ability of private
citizens to protect themselves from federal power, as well. The Framers were
thinking in fundamentals.
course, long ago the states surrendered their sovereignty by becoming addicted –
sometimes at extortionate gunpoint, but too often not – to federal largesse various
forms drawn from a national taxpayer population. States have become submissive and
dependent satrapies of the central federal government.
Former Supreme Court justice John
Paul Stevens wants to reduce gun violence, abolish the death penalty, restrict
political campaign spending, limit states' independence and make Congress more
competitive and less combative. His solution: Amend the Constitution….
"It's certainly not easy to
get the Constitution amended, and perhaps that's one flaw in the Constitution
that I don't mention in the book," he said during a wide-ranging interview
with USA TODAY in his chambers at the court. Noting his book's half dozen
proposed amendments, he mused, "Maybe I should have had seven."
seventh amendment to allow easier gutting of the Constitution? Why not? What
Stevens proposes would be a step in the right direction. I mean, the left direction.
Though Stevens proposes precise
language for each proposed amendment, he admits the process is extremely
difficult. 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.
The last amendment, blocking Congress from changing its members' salaries
between elections, passed in 1992.
Among the amendments Stevens
•Changing the Second Amendment to
make clear that only a state's militia, not its citizens, has a constitutional
right to bear arms.
•Changing the Eighth Amendment's
prohibition against "cruel and unusual punishments" by specifically
including the death penalty.
•Removing from First Amendment
protection any "reasonable limits" on campaign spending enacted by
Congress or the states.
•Requiring that congressional and
state legislative districts be "compact and composed of contiguous
territory" to stop both parties from carving out safe seats.
•Eliminating states' sovereign
immunity from liability for violating the Constitution or an act of Congress,
which he calls a "manifest injustice."
•Allowing Congress to require
states to perform federal duties in emergencies, in order to reduce "the
risk of a national catastrophe."
prompted Stevens to write Six Amendments?
It was the December 2012 school
shootings in Newtown, Conn., that focused Stevens' [sic] attention on a rule that prevents Congress from requiring
states to perform federal duties. The rule had led to holes in a federal
database of gun purchases.
"It's called the
anti-commandeering rule, which turned out to be the first chapter of a book
that kind of grew like Topsy," Stevens said. "I thought that maybe
the only way to get rid of the rule is to have a constitutional amendment, and
then it occurred to me ... that there really are other provisions of the
Constitution that should be looked at more closely."
concludes his article with a friendly warning:
Among the issues to watch for, [Stevens]
said, are a constitutional right to same-sex marriage ("Sooner or later,
they'll have to address the question"), gun control (Scalia's 2008 opinion
protecting handguns in the home won't be the final word), and government
surveillance programs, which Stevens
defends as constitutional. [Italics mine]
long as the government doesn't watch Muslims. In Stevens's mind, anything may be made constitutional – as
long as it has nothing to do with individual rights, the sanctity of property,
and an individual owning his own life, and not the state.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Another controversy you’re
jumping right into is campaign finance. You believe Congress should be able to
put limits on the amount of money candidates spend on their campaigns…
FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Yes.
JUDY WOODRUFF: … and that the Supreme Court has
made mistakes in several decisions, allowing corporations, labor unions to
advocate and spend money on candidates. Considering all the court has done,
Justice Stevens, to open the door for huge money to pour into American
politics, including the recent McCutcheon
decision, what effect does all this have on American politics?
Judy Woodruff counts to three, and says quietly,
"You're on!" Stevens answers:
FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, I don’t think it’s a
healthy effect. And I think it’s a change from what the people who direct —
framed our basic government envisioned. For the — as the chief justice said, I
think, in the first sentence of his opinion in the McCutcheon case the other
day, there is nothing more important than participation in electing our
But the law that developed in
that case and in a number of other cases involved not electing the
representatives of the people who voted for them, but electing representatives
of — in other jurisdictions where the financing is used. In other words, that
was a case that involved the right of the — of an individual to spend as much
of its money as he wanted to elect representatives of other people. He didn’t
use any of that money to elect his own representatives.
that one would not be allowed to donate money to the candidate or advocate of
one's choice, except in amounts predetermined by the government or the Federal
Election Commission. However, as an outraged Fred Wertheimer notes in his SCOTUS
With its Citizens
United and McCutcheon decisions, the Supreme Court has turned
our representative system of government into a sandbox for America’s
billionaires and millionaires to play in.
The Court’s decisions have
empowered a new class of American political oligarchs and have come at the
enormous expense of the voices and interests of more than 300 million
Cloaked in jurisprudence, the
five Justices who make up a majority on the Supreme Court are imposing their
ideology and politics on the country. In the process, they are issuing radical,
not conservative, opinions.
that opinions at odds with the reigning leftist ideology are to be feared;
left-wing billionaires would be free to dominate the "sandbox" with
impunity, as Barack Obama's donors and backers did in 2008 and 2012. That would
be all right with Wertheimer – and Justice Stevens.
turns to gun control and flashes Stevens her cue cards:
JUDY WOODRUFF: The last area that I want to ask
you about is what this country should do about guns. You would change the
wording of the Second Amendment to the Constitution to say the right of people
to bear arms to own a gun should apply only when serving in the militia. Is it
your ultimate hope that there would be no right to own a gun for self-defense?
FMR. JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS: Well, it would be my ultimate
hope that legislatures would decide the issues, and not be hampered by
constitutional restrictions, because, clearly, legislators are in a much better
position than judges are to decide what could be permissible in different
And the effect of the Second
Amendment as it is now construed is to make federal judges the final arbiters
of gun policy, which is quite, quite wrong, I think, and quite contrary to what
the framers intended when they drafted the Second Amendment, to protect states
from the danger that a strong federal armed force would have been able [sic] to the states of their own
The occasion for our talk was
Justice Stevens’s new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the
Constitution.” One of those amendments would address Citizens United, which he
wrote was “a giant step in the wrong direction.”….
He talked about what he called a
telling flaw in the opening sentence of last month’s big campaign finance
ruling. He filled in some new details about the behind-the-scenes maneuvering
that led to the
Citizens United decision. And he called for a constitutional amendment to
address what he said was the grave threat to American democracy caused by the
torrent of money in politics.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.
started his controlling opinion with a characteristically crisp and stirring
opening sentence: “There is no right more basic in our democracy than the right
to participate in electing our political leaders.”
But that was misleading, Justice
Stevens said. “The first sentence here,” he said, “is not really about what the
case is about.”
what was it about, if not the right of citizens to participle in elections,
regardless of their tax brackets? Well, it was about something else, about not allowing rich
donors dominate and elections. Rich donors, of course, meaning rich
"conservatives" like the Koch Brothers supporting candidates who
oppose big government. Rich donors and
manipulators like George Soros should be exempt from campaign contribution laws
and the number of candidates they can support in political action committees
(PACs), under the table, and across state lines.
The new amendment would override
the First Amendment and allow Congress and the states to impose “reasonable
limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their
supporters, may spend in election campaigns.”
I asked whether the amendment
would allow the government to prohibit newspapers from spending money to
publish editorials endorsing candidates. He stared at the text of his proposed
amendment for a little while. “The ‘reasonable’ would apply there,” he said,
“or might well be construed to apply there.”
Or perhaps not. His tentative
answer called to mind an exchange at the
first Citizens United argument, when a government lawyer told the court
that Congress could in theory ban books urging the election of political
Justice Stevens said he would not
go that far. “Perhaps you could put a limit on the times of publication or
something,” he said. “You certainly couldn’t totally prohibit writing a book.”
why not? I'm sure a justice with Stevens's intellectual acumen could knock together
an argument for prohibiting the publication of books critical of candidates and
their agendas during an election cycle. That, of course, would be censorship.
New York Times would howl like a stuck pig were it prohibited from
editorializing about its favorite candidates. Political non-profits, and
competing newspapers of the "conservative" bent, however, must gag themselves
in a censorial "fairness doctrine," or else feel the weight of the
FEC and the IRS.
to worry. Stevens is a little foggy on how he'd construe "reasonable."
Note: The occasion of the publication of Stevens's book is about as trial
balloon as you can get. After all, Stevens, now 94, still had enough energy to
fit in numerous interviews with sympathetic, bedazzled journalists in the space
of two days, doubtless with the cooperation of his publisher.
the near future, I will take out my bow and arrow, and, emulating Katniss
Everdeen (a mnemonic device for "Can't Miss Ever, Dear"?) of The Hunger Games movies, and puncture of
few of the trial balloons in Stevens's book.