Constitution Daily

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Video: Justice John Paul Stevens on changing the Constitution

May 20, 2014 by NCC Staff


Jeffrey Rosen speaks with Justice Stevens

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens joins the National Constitution Center’s Jeffrey Rosen for a discussion about his latest book on C-SPAN’s Book TV.


In Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, Stevens—whose 35 years on the Court amount to the third-longest tenure of any justice in American history—takes on well-worn popular debates over issues like gerrymandering and campaign finance, as well as more obscure points of doctrine such as the “anti-commandeering” rule and sovereign immunity.


The immediate cause for the book, he said, was the fatal shooting of 20 children and 6 adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. That tragedy, and others like it, would have a better chance of prevention if the Constitution were amended to add the four words “and other public officials” to the Supremacy Clause in Article VI.


In his wide-ranging conversation with Rosen, Stevens reaffirmed his opposition to the Court’s recent decisions on campaign finance, most notably Citizens United and McCutcheon. In fact, Stevens recently testified to that effect before the Senate Rules Committee.


“There is a powerful state interest in having fair elections, and it’s an interest that can trump the First Amendment right [to free speech] in certain situations,” he argued. “The Court has treated the First Amendment issue as trumping everything else, and I think that they fail to give adequate weight to the interest in people running their own show.”


Stevens also traced the evolution of his thinking on the death penalty, citing criminal procedures that increasingly favor prosecutors and the exoneration of numerous death row inmates as among the factors leading to his opposition to the practice.


“As long as there’s a risk of error that an innocent man may be executed and put to death by the state,” he said, “that is not a risk that a civilized society should accept.”


You can watch the full interview by clicking here.


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