Eric Posner on the Difficulty of Amending the Constitution
In his new book, Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution, John Paul Stevens argues for amending the Constitution to promote democracy and rights. Stevens, who served on the Supreme Court from 1975 to 2010, knows a lot about the nation’s founding document and thinks that it needs a major retooling. He’s right that there are many problems with it. But he’s wrong to think that amending the Constitution is the solution. He’s wrong because it is nearly impossible to enact new amendments. That is the problem that needs a solution.
Stevens wants to abolish the death penalty, allow for more gun control and campaign finance regulation, and give judges the power to block gerrymandering. He would also allow the federal government to order around state officials and enable people to sue state governments for damages. The six amendments he proposes would overturn Supreme Court decisions, many of which Stevens dissented from when he served on the court.
In most countries, we could seriously consider the changes to the Constitution that Stevens proposes—or, for that matter, a different set of amendments from the Tea Party. But in our country, we can’t. Any proposal to amend the Constitution is idle because it’s effectively impossible.