WASHINGTON (CBS DC) — Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens discussed with ABC News a few of his proposed changes to the U.S. Constitution, along with how partisan “politics” should affect a judge’s decision to retire, based upon who may be their replacement.
In his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution,” Stevens says he is only making “moderate proposals” to the Constitution – a document he says was established by “the People” and not by the states.
Among the more “radical” proposals suggested in the book, Stevens argues for a 5-word change to the Second Amendment: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms – when serving in the Militia – shall not be infringed,” adding the middle section.
Like many of his proposals, Stevens says that this change to the Second Amendment would allow the Constitution to return the law to the founders’ original intentions, which he says were not intended to allow for the individual right to bear arms. Although the majority decision in the Supreme Court’s 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller ruled to the contrary of Stevens’ belief.
Stevens says it “should be legislatures rather than judges” who should be able to decide what is permissible for the American public. But Stevens says the gun lobby has enough power that an individual ban on individual gun owners – which would be legal under Stevens’ proposals – is not likely.
“The likelihood of [widespread outlawing of firearms] is quite remote,” he argues, because the gun lobby “is able to take care of itself in the democratic debates which would continue with my amendment.”
“There was a fear among the original framers that the federal government would be so strong that they might destroy the state militias,” said Stevens. “The amendment would merely prevent arguments being made that Congress doesn’t have the power to do what they think is in the best public interest.”
Stevens also takes a shot at Congress in his proposed amendments, saying gerrymandering districts to “preserver political power,” should be unconstitutional.
“It doesn’t take a genius to say there’s something fishy about these districts,” he said.
In addition to his proposed Constitutional changes, Stevens discussed how “politics” should affect a judge’s decision on when to retire. Stevens maintains that he didn’t bow to political pressure when he retired in 2010, with consistent liberal-bloc voter Elena Kagan being appointed by President Barack Obama as Stevens’ replacement.
Stevens said Sunday that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg doesn’t need his advice on when she should retire, with Stevens arguing that judges should take politics and their successor into consideration when considering retirement timing.
“I’d say she doesn’t need my advice, she really doesn’t,” Stevens told ABC News. “She did ask my advice,” he added, summarizing his response as, “‘Ruth, you’re fully capable of handling everything that comes along.'”
“It’s an appropriate thing to think about your successor, not only in this job,” Stevens said. “I’m just finishing the book by former Secretary [of Defense Robert] Gates. He thought a lot about his successor, too. If you’re interested in the job and in the kind of work that’s done, you have to have an interest in who’s going to fill your shoes.”
Stevens said his own 2010 retirement was not tied to politics.
“My decision was not made for any political reason whatsoever,” he said. “It was my concern about my own health.”
— Benjamin Fearnow