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This short essay, prepared for a special issue of the Northwestern University Law Review celebrating the life and legacy of Justice John Paul Stevens, explores the intersections between Justice Stevens's life and career and the process of constitutional amendment. Justice Stevens participated in shaping the meaning of the Constitution through his nearly 35-year career on the Supreme Court, and his five years on the Seventh Circuit. But his extraordinary life spanned still more legal and constitutional history: he was born the year the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified; was a teenager when the country ended its experiment with Prohibition; was himself an indirect beneficiary of constitutional amendment, after the procedures set forth in the Twenty-Fifth Amendment led to the presidency of Gerald Ford, who in 1975 selected Justice Stevens for a seat on the Supreme Court. Following his 2010 retirement from the Court, Justice Stevens turned his attention to advocating another round of constitutional amendments, including an amendment to restore what he believed to be the true meaning of the Second Amendment. Through his writings and speeches on the topic, Justice Stevens seemed to be conveying the message that the project of improving and even perfecting the Constitution is one that requires broad public engagement; and that at particular moments in history, we may all be called to participate in that project. It is striking that this message was one he found so urgent during his final years in public life. And it is just one part of the extraordinary legacy Justice Stevens leaves behind.


Justice Stevens, Supreme Court, amending the constitution, Heller, Second Amendment

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Northwestern University Law Review