How liberal is too liberal? It was a question that Democrats spent a great deal of time wrestling with in 2017 when the party’s progressive wing, energized by grassroots activists and led by Senator Bernie Sanders, were happy to push well to the left of traditional Democrat orthodoxy, and the pragmatic centrists, led by establishment types like Sen. Chuck Schumer, urged economic-focused moderation.
Yeah, that debate seems to be over and the progressives have won. On nearly every issue Democrats are laying down litmus tests that would have been unthinkable just two election cycles ago. They are not just advocating for a minimum wage, they are proposing a maximum wage. They are ready to scrap Obamacare’s piecemeal approach and go whole hog on single-payer healthcare. They don’t care about nuanced views on abortion, but are instead debating whether to support pro-life Democratic candidates at all.
And now, Democrats—highlighted by retired Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens—aren’t just debating certain elements of gun control, they’re calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment altogether.
“[Broad public support for legislation] is a clear sign to lawmakers to enact legislation prohibiting civilian ownership of semiautomatic weapons, increasing the minimum wage to buy a gun from 18 to 21 years old, and establishing more comprehensive background checks on all purchasers of firearms,” justice Stevens writes in the New York Times. “But the demonstrators should seek more effective and more lasting reform. They should demand a repeal of the Second Amendment.”
As Aaron Blake writes for the Washington Post, this comes with significant risk for Democrats:
“A party that was once afraid of being saddled with supporting “government-run” health care is increasingly okay with the word “liberal” and even voted in droves for a self-described socialist in 2016. And its 2020 hopefuls are leading the leftward charge. …
In a New York Times op-ed on Tuesday, Stevens calls for a repeal of the Second Amendment. The move might as well be considered an in-kind contribution to the National Rifle Association, to Republicans’ efforts to keep the House and Senate in 2018, and to President Trump’s 2020 reelection bid. In one fell swoop, Stevens has lent credence to the talking point that the left really just wants to get rid of gun ownership and reasserted the need for gun-rights supporters to prevent his ilk from ever being appointed again (with the most obvious answer being: Vote Republican).”
Justice Stevens argument is dangerous for several reasons, not the least of which is that it encroaches on something that to this point has been held sacred: The Bill of Rights. This is no small thing. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, constitutional change should not be taken lightly because tinkering with it every generation feeds a sense of instability in our rights as Americans.
“[A]s every apple to the people would carry an implication of some defect in the government, frequent appeals would, in a great measure, deprive the government of that veneration which time bestows on every thing, and without which perhaps the wisest and freest governments would not possess the requisite stability,” Madison wrote in Federalist No. 49.
If amending the Constitution becomes yet another outcome of increased partisanship, such that Congressional majorities regularly seek to tweak it based on bad Supreme Court precedent, or worse, in reaction to divisive policy debates, then one of the last stabilizing forces of our democracy will have been destroyed.
Fortunately, there is an opportunity for voters to reject this instability and ensure the continued sacredness of our Constitution, and thereby our rights. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement appears imminent and a replacement will soon need to be made. Democrats frankly cannot be trusted with the responsibility of a replacement. Their desire to amend the long-established conception of American liberty displays a reactionary tendency that poses a fundamental threat to the rights this nation was founded upon.