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Hannibal Courier - Post - Hannibal, MO
\x34Rants and Raves\x34 includes everything from political commentary to movie reviews
My plan to set the world to rights
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By Stephen Browne
Stephen Browne
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By Stephen W. Browne
May 10, 2014 11:20 a.m.



“For every hundred men who can design a utopia on paper there are about three or four who could run a chicken farm.”



- Anon

It is said there are two ways to change the Constitution, by amendment and by interpretation. After a career spent doing the latter, retired Associate Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (served 1975-2010) has some suggestions for the former. The 94-year-old solon has written them up in a book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution

Sorry that was a bit snarky. I find much to disagree with Justice Stevens – vehemently disagree in fact, but the fact is he’s an interesting man and some of his ideas are thought-provoking.

The first thing I disagree with is Stevens’ opinion expressed in an interview with USA Today.

“It’s certainly not easy to get the Constitution amended, and perhaps that’s one flaw in the Constitution that I don’t mention in the book,” Stevens said.

Wrong!

It’s supposed to be difficult to amend the Constitution! The Constitution is the basic law of the land that, in Jefferson’s words, “cannot be changed by ordinary processes of legislation.”

No that doesn’t mean “never change.” It means not changed without a great deal of reflection, a long cooling off period and a very, very broad consensus.

Justice Stevens also wants to change the Second Amendment to make it clear the right to bear arms means the right to join the Army, police or National Guard. If they let you.

Nope, not going to go for that one either. Me, the Founding Fathers and old-line liberals like Hubert Humphrey regard an armed citizenry as an insurance policy against tyrannical government. I think it’s a bit disturbing that this once commonplace idea is now considered “extremist.”

Stevens’ other ideas include abolishing the death penalty, campaign finance limits, and requiring that congressional districts be “compact and composed of contiguous territory” i.e. making gerrymandering difficult.

That last one has a lot of merit but I think I’ve got a better idea. In fact I think I’ve got a lot of them. So I’m going to throw out my own suggestions.

First, abolish congressional districts entirely.

Let every member of the House of Representatives be elected at large, by petition. Establish some minimum number of signatures per seat. Show up with X signatures, you get a seat in the House and one vote. Show up with 2X signatures you get a seat and two votes, etc.

Note this would make the House far more democratic by making it possible for everybody to have a representative. Nowadays if you didn’t vote for the winning candidate, you’re out of luck.

Representatives could be elected by any group of people regardless of how far apart they lived. Any substantial minority could be sure of representation.

(Hat tip to SF author Robert Heinlein for this startlingly original idea.)

This may be more democracy than some people are comfortable with. So let’s make the Senate less democratic.

Prior to the ratification of the 17th Amendment (1913) senators were chosen by the state legislators. There are those who think the direct election of senators was a bad idea, for various reasons that deserve a whole column, or book, unto themselves.

So why not meet them half-way? Say the states can select senators any way they want to: appointed by the governor or legislator, direct election, hereditary or chosen by lot. Up to you.

States are supposed to be “laboratories of democracy,” who says a one-size-fits-all approach is best?

If Stevens wants to “clarify” the Second Amendment, I want to clarify the 13th.

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

It seems plain to me, but evidently almost nobody else including the Supreme Court, that this forever outlaws conscription of any kind. I have no idea how one could possibly make it mean anything else.

So let’s clear that up. No more involuntary conscription. Ever.

But, if you want to vote you have to register for the draft – for anything: military service, jury duty, any recognized public obligation from a published list that defines terms of service, at any age. No excuses, no exceptions. You have other things to do with your life, take your name off the voter rolls.

Hmmm, I like this utopia building. Stay tuned for more.

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