Tuesday, March 01, 2005

On Capital Punishment

The Supremes have ruled that capital punishment is unconstitutional if the murderer was under eighteen at the time of the crime. In a 5-4 ruling (squeaking tight, again), the Court decided:

that executing young killers violates "the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society," and that American society has come to regard juveniles as less culpable than adult criminals.

The ruling, which acknowledged "the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty," erases the death sentences imposed on about 70 defendants who were juveniles at the time they killed. Although 19 states nominally permit the execution of juvenile murderers, only Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma have executed any in the past decade.

The case decided today had attracted attention around the world. Briefs on behalf of the young Missouri killer, Christopher Simmons, had been filed by the European Union, the 45-member Council of Europe and other organizations. A brief filed by former United Nations diplomats asserted that the United States' failure to repudiate the execution of juveniles was an irritant in international relations.

Until today, the United States and Somalia were the only nations that permitted putting teenage criminals to death. The court's ruling today held that, while the "overwhelming weight of international opinion" was not controlling, it nevertheless provided "respected and significant confirmation" for the majority's finding.

The majority consisted of all those judges that Bush would like to see go extinct. If he's successful, the future resolutions will sound a lot more like this dissent:

Justice Scalia, in a dissent joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, said the majority opinion had made "a mockery" of constitutional precedent and was based "on the flimsiest of grounds."

"The court thus proclaims itself sole arbiter of our nation's moral standards - and in the course of discharging that awesome responsibility purports to take guidance from the views of foreign courts and legislatures," Justice Scalia wrote.

There is something deeply disappointing in a Supreme Court which bases its decisions on bickering of this kind. I want to look up to my judges, even though I know I can't. Well, I guess Scalia could have argued that the United States doesn't have to consider the opinions of the rest of the world as we are still in the middle of the thirteenth century or something, so the opinions of another era are irrelevant.