Ex-Justice John Paul Stevens doesn't mince words on politics, the court

  • Article by: KATIE ZEZIMA , Washington Post
  • Updated: April 21, 2014 - 10:18 PM

Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who turned 94 on Sunday, has a new book on how he would change the Constitution.

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Justice John Paul Stevens in his chambers at the Supreme Court in Washington last week. The justice, who retired in 2010, has written a new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.” .

Photo: Doug Mills • New York Times,

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WASHINGTON - Retired Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, who turned 94 on Sunday, says it is appropriate for justices to take the political climate into account when thinking about retirement.

“I think so,” Stevens said when asked by George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week” whether it is acceptable to consider politics in such a decision.

“It’s an appropriate thing to think about your successor, not only in this job,” said Stevens, who retired in 2010 and was replaced by Justice Elena Kagan. Stevens cited former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said in a new book that he was also concerned about who would take his place.

“If you’re interested in the job and in the kind of work that’s done, you have an interest in who’s going to fill your shoes,” Stevens said on Sunday.

But Stevens — who was appointed to the high court by President Gerald Ford to replace the court’s longest-serving justice, William O. Douglas — said he did not take politics into account when he retired. “It was concern about my own health.”

When asked if Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg — about whom retirement rumors have been swirling — asked for his advice on when to step down, Stevens said, “She doesn’t need my advice.”

Stevens said Ginsburg did ask him for counsel when she became the court’s senior associate justice. “And I gave her the same answer, ‘Ruth, you’re fully capable of handling everything that comes along.’ ”

Second amendment

Stevens has just penned a book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution.”

He calls for adding five words to the Second Amendment, changing it to “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms while serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.” Because there are no state militias, the change would give the government no restrictions in regulating gun ownership.

He also said that congressional gerrymandering should be unconstitutional. “It doesn’t take a genius to say there’s something fishy about these districts.”

Stevens also recently did an interview with the New York Times. The mild man with an even temperament was quite vocal about the court’s recent string of campaign finance rulings. “The voter is less important than the man who provides money to the candidate,” he told the New York Times. “It’s really wrong.”

He called for a constitutional amendment to address what he said was the grave threat to U.S. democracy caused by the ­torrent of money in politics.

He called the Citizens United decision “a giant step in the wrong direction.”

His new amendment would override the First Amendment and allow Congress and the states to impose “reasonable limits on the amount of money that candidates for public office, or their supporters, may spend in election campaigns.”

 

The New York Times contributed to this report.

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