The Supreme Court gets it right

The Supreme Court ruled today on the Constitutionality of imposing the death penalty on juveniles. Fortunately, although I had feared it would be otherwise, this time they actually got it right, banning the imposition of the death penalty for crimes committed by minors:
"The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.
Personally, I don't understand why this issue should be in dispute or how even death penalty advocates could support the death penalty for minors, much less why the Court's vote would be so close (5-4). Even before my conservativism became more libertarian in nature, leading me to seriously question my previous support for the death penalty, I was always strongly opposed to imposing the death penalty on minors. Yes, 18 is a somewhat arbitrary age, but it's the age our society has chosen at which full rights and responsibilities of adulthood--other than drinking alcohol (but that's a topic for another post)--are granted and expected. As such, it is also a reasonable cutoff for death penalty eligibility. The only thing that bothers me about the ruling is the Court's invocation of international standards. It shouldn't have needed to do that. Defining the execution of children as "cruel and unusual punishment" under the Eighth Amendment should have sufficed.


  1. This is a good step forward. I can understand the judicial dissent, given what the article says about O'Connor preferring case-by-case determinations on maturity. That sounds almost reasonable, if you can ignore the abhorrent nature of the thing itself.

    The part that grabbed my attention:

    Dianne Clements, president of the Houston-based Justice for All victims' advocacy group, criticized the decision and said she hopes that when there is a Supreme Court vacancy a strong death penalty supporter is nominated.

    "The Supreme Court has opened the door for more innocent people to suffer by 16- and 17-year-olds," she said. "I can't wait for the Supreme Court to have judges more concerned with American values, American statutes and American law than what the Europeans think."
    I can only imagine what would lead someone to be filled with that sort of malice. I can't help but feel sorry for (and worried by) someone who carries that around. The scary part is, this sort of sociopathy is hardly recognized as such. In effect, she's hoping for more death. "Retribution," some might call it, or even "justice." Whether it's coming from hardheartedness or vengeance (or even pragmatic utilitarianism *shudder*), I think even this sort of violence only begets more violence.

    -Ali(Sorry for the ridiculously long comment.)

  2. No shit! Kids caught up in the freakedupedness that is their "parents" lives? I'm just hoping that their generation has enough mentors in OUR generation to make a difference.

  3. I was driving home this evening, and the right-wing talkers were already frothing at the mouth about this decision. I happened to catch Mark Levin, a syndicated radio talk show host who also shows up on Fox News a lot.

    I sometimes wonder if I'm starting to turn into a liberal or something. The right-wing talkers I used to like to listen to (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, etc.) annoy the hell out of me now--although Mark Levin is so damned obnoxious and insulting that he would have annoyed the heck out of me even when I was a Rush Limbaugh fan. The only reason he "wins" all his arguments on his radio show is because he shouts over his callers and hits the "mute" button when they start to get the better of them. He's almost as big an embarrassment to conservatives as Ann Coulter.

    On the other hand, I don't base my newfound opposition to the death penalty so much on its being wrong, but rather on a very--dare I say?--conservative reluctance to give the government the ultimate power of life and death over its citizens. The sole exception I make is for the military, when such power in necessary to defend the country.

    The conservative talkers do have one thing right, though. I find it rather disturbing that the Court had to appeal to international law to justify this decision. Their job is to interpret the Constitution, and appealing to international law is not necessary for that. A much less inflammatory and more defensible rationale would have been simply to declare that executing children constitutes "cruel and unusual" punishment under the Eighth Amendment.

    (How's that for a long comment?)

  4. I think the problem here is that the Supreme Court has recently tended to interpret "cruel and unusual" as a property of the punishment itself, rather than its application. IOW, in order for a punishment to violate the Eighth Amendment, it would have to be "cruel and unusual" in *any* conceivable circumstance in which it could be applied.

    In the specific case, that would mean that for a punishment to violate the Eighth Amendment when applied to minors, it would also have to be a violation when applied to adults. Assuming that the Court wants to stick to that interpretation, going to international law for precedent is about all it could do short of declaring the death penalty to be a violation _per se_.

  5. I would have little problem with declaring the death penalty to be cruel and unusual punishment in and of itself. I'd be willing to forgo the satisfaction of executing the occasional mass murderer or terrorist in return for eliminating this particular punishment.

    Besides, life in prison without parole is no walk in the park. Personally, if faced with that option, death would suddenly look not so bad.

  6. I've asked this before, so I'm guessing I won't get a response now - but what distinguishes a 'conservative' from a 'liberal'?

  7. I used to know, but ever since Bush came into office, I'm not sure I can answer that question anymore. Certainly fiscal responsibility, which I always considered the bedrock of conservatism, no longer seems to be a criterion. Nor does limited federal government (another bedrock principle of conservatism in the past), as that seems to be out the window as well.

  8. Actually I'm quite pleased the Supreme Court referenced international standards. As you know Bob, the Bush admin, particularly Gonzales, have been trying to exclude any reference to international standards in US law ( because of course torture is against international norms), as have many of the 'strict constructionists' Bush wants to appoint as judges. The Supremes have shot across Bush's bow on this one, and are basically saying that US law may not ignore international legal standards.

    Republic of Palau ( Blogger playing silly-buggers again)

  9. Orac,

    If it makes you feel any better I used to be a huge fan of Michael Moore, Noam Chomsky (indeed my cat is even named after him), and various lefties that I have grown to find a little annoying. I think over time one just prefers more moderate role models or at least less screechy ones.

  10. Anonymous,

    The problem with your view is that it's not the job of the Supreme Court to reference international standards. It is their job to interpret the U.S. Constitution and U.S. laws. Period. Even many of us who were pleased with the outcome were very disturbed at the reasoning the Court used.

    Capitalist Pig,

    Until around 2001 or so, I actually used to be a regular listener to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity; so I can't really talk, can I?


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