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Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution Hardcover – April 22, 2014

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Editorial Reviews

Review

PRAISE FOR THE FIVE CHIEFS:

"Informative and very appealing....It's classic justice Stevens: understated and generous to those he differs with, but absolutely clear on where he believes justice lies."
--- Adam Cohen, Time

"Laced with observations on the court's architecture, traditions and even its seating arrangements, it is the collected ruminations of a man who has served his country in war and peace, across the decades... His memoir is as gracious as its author and a reminder that Stevens is more than a longtime member of the nation's highest court. He is a national treasure."
--- Jim Newton, Los Angeles Times

"An important addition to American history....At its core, the book is not just another memoir from yet another judge. It marks instead the end of an era on the Supreme Court and in the broader swath of American law and politics."
--- Andrew Cohen, The Atlantic

"Coming from the last of a dying breed of jurists who genuinely believe you can learn something from everyone if you just listen hard enough, it is a lesson in how, at the Supreme Court, civility and cordiality matter more, even, than doctrine."
--- Dahlia Lithwick, Washington Post

About the Author

John Paul Stevens served as a Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit from 1970-1975. President Ford nominated him as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, and he took his seat December 19, 1975. Justice Stevens retired from the Supreme Court on June 29, 2010. He has written for the New York Review of Books and is the author of Five Chiefs: A Supreme Court Memoir.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown and Company (April 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316373729
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316373722
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #35,703 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

85 of 96 people found the following review helpful By William Springer on April 23, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
In the wake of the unprecedented level of gerrymandering that followed the 2010 elections, as well as the Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act and campaign finance laws, it has become very clear that a constitutional amendment may be required in order to preserve the right to vote in this country. While I have not read Stevens' previous book, I've heard good things about his writing, so I've been looking forward to reading his latest offering. It was announced early on that he would take on the second amendment, which guaranteed that the book would be controversial, but I was more interested in the other five amendments he intended to offer. Although Stevens spent nearly 35 years on the high court, he seems to feel that it has taken on excessive power, and here he advocates returning power to the people's representatives in Congress.

After a quick review of the successful amendments thus far, Stevens proceeds to a discussion of the Supremacy Clause and whether the federal government can compel state officials to enforce federal law, given that the language specifically calls out judges ("and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby"); he recommends adding the words "and other public officials", with the reasoning that often state officials are in the best position to enforce federal law. Stevens clearly considers this to be a clarification rather than a change, but one which would overturn past rulings of the court.

The second chapter moves on to what I would consider one of the greatest threats to democracy: political gerrymandering.
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61 of 84 people found the following review helpful By Loyd E. Eskildson HALL OF FAME on April 22, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens wants to change the Constitution with six amendments to reduce gun violence, limit political campaign spending, outlaw the death penalty, limit states' independence, and make Congress less combative and ideological.

Here are the four most significant:

1)Gerrymandering: Congressional districts, as well as those at the state level, shall be compact and composed of contiguous territory.

2)Campaign Finance: Congress, not any state, will be not prohibited from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.

3)Death Penalty: The death penalty shall not be inflicted.

4)The Second Amendment: 'A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.

What he doesn't propose amending, however, is the difficulty in amending the Constitution - very likely a fatal oversight. 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. In today's environment it's almost impossible to even get a simple majority of both houses of Congress.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Ronald H. Clark VINE VOICE on May 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover
It is spring and proposed constitutional amendments are in the air. One thoughtful group has come from conservative commentator Mark Levin in his interesting "The Liberty Amendments." Now retired Justice John Paul Stevens has offered his own menu of six amendments in this volume. As regards the general reader, some chapters will interest many; other chapters deal with areas that may be overwhelmingly technical or simply less interesting. In any regard, Justice Stevens offers some fresh ideas and proposals that bear serious consideration. The book follows a uniform methodology: Justice Stevens first outlines a problem he sees in the present constitutional structure and then articulates how he would amend the document to correct that problem. I think this approach works well and is easy to follow.

After a prologue which is a quick run through the present lineup of constitutional amendments, Stevens in the initial chapter turns to the "anti-commandeering rule." The supremacy clause of the Constitution (Art. VI, Cl. 2) imposed a duty on state judges to implement and apply federal law as superior to state law. Recently, the issue has arisen whether state officials in addition to judges can be required to implement federal law. The background-checking provisions of gun-control legislation is a prime example. Recent Supreme Courts have imposed an area of state immunity from federal statutes, arguing that the supremacy clause only specifies judges are bound by it. Justice Stevens thinks this approach is inappropriate and would modify the clause to include all "public officials." The only problem with this chapter is that it throws a lot of case law at the reader, since many of the problems Stevens sees are the result of Supreme Court decisions.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Anonymous Reader on May 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Justice John Paul Stevens, who served on the U.S. Supreme Court for some 35 years, was consistently erudite, incisive and eloquent in his decisions. Stevens is rightly considered a national treasure. Readers who choose to be schooled on constitutional law by Stevens in Six Amendments are in for a rewarding and challenging read.

Six Amendments offers Justice Stevens' preferred fixes to the Constitution:
1)Broadening the anti-commandeering language of the constitution, so that state officials (in addition to judges) may be required to enforce federal laws.
2)Outlawing political gerrymandering.
3)Permitting the enactment of reasonable campaign spending restrictions in federal and state campaigns by candidates and their supporters.
4)Eliminating sovereign immunity for states or state officials who violate any act of Congress or the Constitution.
5)Eliminating the death penalty as cruel and unusual punishment.
6)Clarifying the wording of the Second Amendment so that the right to bear arms clearly pertains to service in a state militia.

While I do not agree with all of Justice Stevens' prescriptions (I believe that the death penalty option is warranted for especially violent or heinous crimes, and his anti-commandeering amendment could impose undue fiscal obligations on the states), his discussion of his proposed amendments is always illuminating. Stevens' discussion shows definitively that the Constitution is a living document and that interpretation changes over time as political opinion and societal norms change. Stevens' analysis also highlights the key challenge in federalism: attaining the appropriate balance between state and federal powers. Stevens is inherently a moderate on this point, although he leans toward the federalist perspective.
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