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Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution
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Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution

3.67  ·  Rating Details  ·  528 Ratings  ·  109 Reviews
For the first time ever, a retired Supreme Court Justice offers a manifesto on how the Constitution needs to change.

By the time of his retirement in June 2010, John Paul Stevens had become the second longest serving Justice in the history of the Supreme Court. Now he draws upon his more than three decades on the Court, during which he was involved with many of the definin
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published April 22nd 2014 by Little, Brown and Company (first published January 1st 2014)
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Scott Porch
Apr 23, 2014 Scott Porch added it
Shelves: 2014
This review originally appeared in my column for Huffington Post on April 23, 2014.

As you may recall from your eighth-grade social studies class, the United States Constitution was written to be changed and we have changed it often. Even as the last of the 13 colonies were ratifying the Constitution in 1789 and 1790, the First Congress was already deep into debate over the Bill of Rights that would become the first ten amendments.

In the years since, we have tinkered with the Constitution a numbe
Mar 27, 2014 Kyle rated it liked it
Gotta hand it to former Justice Stevens: Just when you think you're gonna get a straight political polemic on the ills of the country, you instead get a quiet, calm, legally-reasoned set of arguments for a handful of constitutional amendments. Each proposed change gets its own mini legal history, with special focus on how the Supreme Court has adjudicated. Some involve qualifying changes to existing amendments (like his proposed addition to the Second Amendment), while others (like the one invol ...more
Jkimballcook Cook
Jun 11, 2014 Jkimballcook Cook rated it really liked it
Shelves: law
Concise, cogent, and to the point. The six changes Justice Stevens would make are (1) enable the federal government to require state officers to enforce federal law (currently, although the constitution says that federal law is "the supreme law of the land" over state law, the supreme court has interpreted this to mean only that state judges have to follow federal law, but not that other state officers are required to enforce federal law), (2) give political gerrymandering the same scrutiny unde ...more
Apr 25, 2014 Joe rated it liked it
More like 3.5. I will avoid going into detail because of the subject matter (I realize this book touches on controversial topics), but I really enjoyed it. Any reader, whether agree or disagree with the six proposals in this book, if the reader is fair, will respect his careful and thorough reasoning. Justice Stevens has been working under the hood of our constitution for the better part of 40 years. He knows the rattles, the leaky spots, and he has watched its interpretation change for better a ...more
Chris Lund
Aug 13, 2014 Chris Lund rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics, law
A relatively short and easy read covering quite a range of legal topics, from major hot button issues like gun control and campaign finance, to issues that the average person has probably never even heard of, like sovereign immunity and the anti-commandeering rule. It's a nice change of pace to see him arguing political and legal points outside of the constrains of the bench. He does a good job in summarizing each of the 6 issues discussed, and, as usual, presents highly structured and logical a ...more
Jason Cantone
Aug 31, 2014 Jason Cantone rated it it was ok
I have now read both of Justice Stevens' recent books (Five Chiefs about his time with five chief justices; this one, about his proposed revisions to six amendments). And, frankly, neither was that good. Five Chiefs was like reading a set of 1L law school case briefs (and not the insider take of someone more inside than Jeffrey Toobin, who writes nice/pop SCOTUS insider books). This one was very blah. His arguments (whether you agree with them or not) are very weak. It's as if he was told to kee ...more
Apr 10, 2016 Jacob rated it liked it
It's been kind of hard to separate my opinion of Justice Stevens' opinions from my opinions of his writing and how he makes his arguments. Hopefully I can focus on the latter two in this review. In regards to his opinions, in some cases I agree and some I don't, but most of the time even when I agree it's for different reasons.

For anyone who still holds that the Supreme Court has been an unbiased, objective body focused on adjudicating based on established laws, this book is a fairly short way t
May 21, 2014 Bryan rated it liked it
May it please the court.

"Six Amendments" is fascinating in some places, but disappointing in others. On the one hand, this is a unique insight into what a Supreme Court justice really thinks, and a chance to keep pace -- for an hour or two -- with a towering intellect. On the other hand, the text can get a little dry at times, and it's no surprise to learn that Justice Stevens can sometimes be somewhat out of touch with modern life.

The book is at its strongest when talking about the anti-comman
Patrick Gendron
Jan 03, 2016 Patrick Gendron rated it really liked it
Weather or not you agree with what John Paul Stevens lays out as the amendments he would make, this is a great read. Quick, to the point, and well thought out. I found myself enjoying this read more than I thought I would.
Apr 03, 2014 Steve rated it liked it
A short and easy to read set of proposed Constitutional amendments by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens. From the death penalty, gun control and campaign finance to gerrymandering, sovereign immunity and the "anti-commandeering rule" Stevens' suggestions are each accompanied by a brief judicial history and personal stories. This book was an interesting position piece that quickly laid out the reasons for the proposals and placed the focus on where the changes should be made, in the ...more
Edward Weiss
Apr 03, 2016 Edward Weiss rated it really liked it
Another non-fiction, but I had to as retired associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States John Paul Stevens is one of my all-time (along with the justice he replaced, William O. Douglas.) heroes! Born in 1920, he served on the Court from 1975 to 2010. Being twenty years his junior and a fellow Chicagoan, I have followed his achievements over my lifetime. One of my few regrets is I have never met this extraordinary man.

I'm not an attorney (as is Stevens' fictional next-door neighbo
Adam Dreher
Dec 27, 2015 Adam Dreher rated it liked it
Inspired by the events of Sandy Hook Elementary school, retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens outlines his ideas for how the Constitution should be amended to better the nation as a whole. These six amendments, if ratified, would create the "more perfect union" envisioned by the founders . . . or so Justice Stevens argues.

As a bit of a Supreme Court nerd I've always tried to stay on top of books written by the justices themselves. I find it fascinating to get what I consider to be 'inside inform
Richard Harden
Apr 11, 2015 Richard Harden rated it really liked it
This is a treatise that demands provocative but thoughtful consideration of how the very strengths of our Constitution have been twisted to serve partisan politics, and how we can restore that document to an understanding closer to its original meaning. The very notion of such change, and Justice Stevens' intellectual and reasoned appeal for them are colored by his left-leaning view of the Government. Yet, his experience as a Supreme Court Justice tempers his calls for change just short of what ...more
Andrew McBurney
Jun 11, 2014 Andrew McBurney rated it liked it
Six Amendments is Justice Stevens’ prescription for a better America by reversing particular Supreme Court decisions through the ratification of amendments to the Constitution.

Although we typically think of the Supreme Court as being the final say in matters of constitutional interpretation, there are two ways that a Supreme Court decision may be overturned. The first is by a later Supreme Court decision that reverses an earlier decision. The second is by amending the Constitution in a way that
May 02, 2014 Adam rated it it was ok
When John Paul Stevens retired from the Supreme Court in 2010, he had served as a justice for close to thirty-five years, making his term the third longest in American history. He was also 90 years old, the Court's last veteran of World War II, and--if his critics were to be believed--a relic of a bygone era whose departure was two decades too late. Often described as "wise" and "soft-spoken," his customary bow-ties giving him the appearance of a sweet and elderly grandfather out of touch with c ...more
Dec 24, 2015 Tomi rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
A fun and quick read for me. I appreciated Stevens' insights and enjoyed hearing this material in closer to layman's terms, outside of the context of cases and textbooks. His descriptions were occasionally somewhat confusing, but generally informative and thoughtful. Glad I read it!
May 11, 2014 Carl rated it really liked it
Disclosure: won this via Goodreads Giveaway.

Although some of the writing is in legalese a bit too dense for legal laypersons, Justice Stevens lays out some good arguments for changing our Constitution. Unfortunately, the necessary changes to gerrymandering, or money in politics, are likely impossible, in large part due to the laws he would change. Since he wrote this, the current majority has extended the reach of Citizens United by their decision in McCutcheon. Their reasoning that campaign mon
Lane Willson
Dec 18, 2014 Lane Willson rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, politics
I was in over my head before I finished the prologue. While I don't agree with all of Justice Stevens' ideas, I found it quite reassuring to know that in this day and time there are still folks in our judicial system willing to thoughtfully express philosophies and improvements in our constitution and the republic it defines. It seems like more and more, regardless of who is in power, the goal is to find the potential judge who looks the best on their curriculum vitae, yet has managed to not act ...more
John Kaufmann
May 26, 2014 John Kaufmann rated it really liked it
Former US Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was appointed to the court by Republican President Gerald Ford, but wound up differing from most of the other Republican-appointed conservatives on the court as the years went on. Rather than criticizing those justices for making "wrong" decisions, Stevens suggests that the Constitution's lack of clarity leaves it open to interpretation, which lends itself to widely divergent opinions. Stevens tackles this by proposing six amendments that would c ...more
May 11, 2014 Maria rated it really liked it
Former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens has written a handbook for amending the Constitution in order to make our society more democratic and more just. In six brief chapters, one for each proposed change, he highlights the small modifications that could be made to great effect in order to make our country a better place. He starts with more obscure concepts (anti-commandeering, sovereign immunity) and closes with the hot button issues (the death penalty, gun control), and uses compelling ...more
Buck Ward
May 10, 2014 Buck Ward rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, reviewed
Justice Stevens begins his arguments with a succinct synopsis of the existing amendments to the Constitution, beginning with the Bill of Rights. His six proposed amendments are related to 1) reversing the anti-commandeering rule, 2) the prohibition of political gerrymandering, 3) reversing the Citizens United ruling, 4) addressing sovereign immunity, 5) the elimination of the death penalty, and 6) clarification of the Second Amendment. Stevens' arguments for each are cogent and compelling. While ...more
Jun 21, 2015 Joan rated it really liked it
I found this very interesting and I can see why Justice Stevens was so effective on the Supreme Court for so long. His arguments are very convincing and I was continually surprised by how few words he suggested adding to the constitution itself or the amendments to make a drastic change. I think the best example of what I mean was his addition to the second amendment to read "...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms WHEN SERVING IN THE MILITIA shall not be infringed." His addition is in ...more
David Rubin
Feb 02, 2015 David Rubin rated it it was amazing
Retired Justice John Paul Stevens provides his lay readers a guide to solving six of our political and legal issues through amendments to the U.S. constitution.

Some of these address issues right out of the front pages: political gerrymandering, gun control, campaign financing, and the death penalty, while others are a bit opaque to the non-attorney reading public: the "anti-commandeering rule" and "state sovereign immunity."

Even though sometimes the legal language and logic challenges those of u
Dec 16, 2014 Niral rated it liked it
Not an earth-shattering book, as many of the proposals are not new, but it's still important to have someone with the author's stature come out and state concrete proposals of how the Constitution should be revised. In particular, I appreciated the discussion about gerrymandering--in mainstream political discourse, I have not heard someone elevate this important issue to the level of a Constitutional edit. Overall, I was hoping for a more colloquial discussion like the one the author provides in ...more
Aug 04, 2014 Lauren rated it really liked it
This slim book – shorter than some Supreme Court opinions – is a wonderful addition to any legal or political junkie’s bookshelf (and may go on my list of books that practicing lawyers should be required to read). Justice Stevens, who retired in 2010, lays out the six changes he would make to the Constitution, and while I didn’t always agree with him, I found the book fascinating. Justice Stevens achieved a rare feat in writing a legal book that actually kept me up at bedtime.

A warning: The boo
May 16, 2014 Mike rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book and well-written. You should know something about Constitutional law and the Supreme Court (NOT what you read or see in the media which is nearly all wrong) in order to enjoy this book fully.

Justice Stevens' recommendations for amendments are not extremely radical, rather they mostly patch up some gaping holes or some colossally misguided Supreme Court decisions.

In either case the Founding Fathers would be aghast at the fact that more has not been done to fix their little "tempo
Aug 29, 2014 Dana rated it it was ok
I'll admit, there were a few chapters that I didn't really follow because law is not at all a strength of mine, reading-wise. While I appreciated the legal research and opinions for all the proposed changes to the Constitution that were laid out in the book, the author states in his introduction that he is "confident...that ultimately each (proposed change) will be adopted." This seems overly confident to me. Some of his shortest chapters were about some of the most controversial political issu ...more
Jun 19, 2014 Thomas rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics, law
Brief and less controversial than I expected. These essays read like more pedestrian versions of his dissents, which he is not averse to quoting. The amendments suggested are generally slight and make simple common sense, though the collateral effects of the proposed amendments might be more fully explored.

The first amendment Stevens suggests would add only four words, "and other public officials" to the Supremacy Clause, giving the federal government more power to enforce federal law. Critics w
Jul 03, 2014 Meepspeeps rated it it was amazing
Every American should read this book. Then every American should read a similar book by someone equally qualified but representing the opposite side of each argument. Then Americans need to insist that Congress introduce and vigorously debate (you know, real debate) these amendments and vote on them. If passed, then the state legislatures need to vigorously debate and vote on ratification. It seems like the anti-commandeering and sovereign immunity should be no brainers, but I'm sure there are s ...more
Tom Chapman
Jun 05, 2014 Tom Chapman rated it really liked it
Finished this book while on vacation. It is interesting to see how a recently retired Justice views many of the issues discussed before him. Much of his analysis is built more narrowly than I expected. He has more ideas associated with how to revise amendments - more than actually write new ones. While I did not agree with all of the points in the book, I did find it an interesting inquiry into the Constitution. Also, the day after I finished the book the State of Vermont established the first l ...more
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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.
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“For candidates who have no fear of losing to a member of the opposite party, the primary rather than the general election will be the decisive event in their campaigns. Whether liberal or conservative, candidates can be expected to adopt more extreme positions when competing within a single party than when competing with a member of the opposite party. I firmly believe that gerrymandering has made our elected officials more doctrinaire and less willing to compromise with members of the opposite party.” 0 likes
“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 election campaigns.” 0 likes
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