Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution

By John Paul Stevens

Over the course of my life I have spent quite a lot of time thinking and arguing about various social and political topics, most of the latter having taken place online. The people I’ve talked to about these issues have ranged from writers to lawyers to business owners to artists, and of course a whole bunch of laypeople like myself. But I’ve never really gotten the chance to discuss anything like gun control or free speech or gay marriage with anyone who actually works with policy, so when I heard that former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens had written a book proposing six ways the US Constitution ought to be amended, I immediately put it on my list. I hoped that this book would be a measured, insightful, rational discussion of the issues it addressed, and in that I was not disappointed.

In this slim, very accessible volume, Stevens addresses the death penalty, gun control, campaign finance, gerrymandering, sovereign immunity, and the “anti-commandeering rule.” Most of those topics were familiar to me, though the latter two were not. In any event, I suppose it should come as little surprise that when one of the more liberal justices of my lifetime writes a political treatise, I would find myself agreeing with most of it. And yet, there we are. Even where I found myself less sure—the “anti-commandeering rule” is one, for example, that has on the one hand been used to support racist and homophobic state laws, but has also allowed states a certain amount of leeway in determining their own drug policy—Stevens’ arguments were well laid-out and persuasive, and showed a deep understanding of both the historical and current contexts of the issues.

Considering that most of Stevens’ positions were ones I already held, I can’t say that reading this book changed my life or opened my eyes in any particularly large way. And I’m not sure, either, whether someone on the other end of the political spectrum would find his arguments as compelling as I did. Even so, I think this book is worth reading if only to see an example of political discourse as it should be: thoughtful, calm, and rational.

Started: 7/26/2016 | Finished: 7/29/2015

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