“Change the Constitution in Six Easy Steps? It Won’t Be That Simple, Justice Stevens; From campaign finance to political gerrymandering, the retired Supreme Court justice skips hard arguments in his new book in favor of unrealistic, poorly drafted solutions. “

I have written this book review for The Daily Beast. It begins:

Reading retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens’s new book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, I was reminded of an old Steve Martin routine from his standup days. “First, get a million dollars,” Martin explains in “You Can Be a Millionaire and Never Pay Taxes.” Then if the tax collector comes to your door asking why you didn’t pay taxes on your million dollars, just say, “I forgot.” Just like Martin, Justice Stevens wants to skip all the tough stuff, using his slim volume to offer overly simplistic solutions to some of the country’s most pressing problems, from political gerrymandering to Second Amendment gun rights and campaign finance. I’m afraid it will take much more to cure our nation’s ills.

Let’s consider Justice Stevens’s take on campaign finance. The Supreme Court has been on a long march toward lifting all campaign finance limits, most famously in the Citizens United case, which freed corporate money from its shackles, and most recently in the McCutcheon case (PDF), which dropped limits on the total amount people can donate to federal candidates in a two-year period. These cases have all been 5-4, with the five conservative justices, led by Chief Justice John Roberts, striking down or limiting campaign finance laws and the four liberals, which included Justice Stevens when he was still on the court, protesting that reasonable campaign finance limits can coexist with the First Amendment.

Mercifully, Justice Stevens assures us that he won’t repeat the arguments he made in his somewhat meandering and ineffective 86-page dissent in Citizens United. (He does reveal that Justice David Souter told him he too would have joined the Citizens United dissent had he still been on the court, something consistent with earlier leaks). Justice Stevens instead offers 20 or so pages describing the nature of the dispute followed by his proposed amendment: “Neither the First Amendment nor any other provision of this Constitution shall be construed to prohibit the Congress or any state from imposing reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in elections.”


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