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.
In the 220-plus years since ratification of the Constitution, more than 11,000 amendments have been proposed, but only 27 have been enacted. The first 10 amendments were added immediately to appease critics of the Constitution during the ratification debates. The three critical post*–Civil War amendments (13th, 14th, and 15th), which expanded individual rights, are also a special case because the Southern states were coerced into ratifying them. From 1870 to today, only 12 amendments have been enacted. And since 1971, only a single amendment has been ratified—a trivial change that prohibits Congress from giving itself a raise that takes effect before the following election—and that ratification took place 203 years after the proposed amendment was submitted to the states in 1789.