Has the U.S.
Supreme Court Lost Its Collective Mind?
by Darryn "Dutch" Martin
In a 5-4 decision, the U.S.
Supreme Court recently ruled that executing prisoners who committed
capital crimes such as murder as minors violates the 8th Amendment
to the U.S. Constitution. This amendment prohibits "cruel
and unusual punishment."
While this ruling is heinous
in itself, the rationale used by Justices Anthony M. Kennedy,
David H. Souter, Stephen G. Breyer, John Paul Stevens and Ruth
Bader Ginsburg in arriving at their majority conclusion is more
When he was just 17 years old, Christopher Simmons told people
he "wanted to murder someone." As described by Justice
Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority in the Roper v. Simmons
decision, that's just what he did:
At the age of 17, when he was
still a junior in high school, Christopher Simmons... committed
murder... There is little doubt that Simmons was the instigator
of the crime. Before its commission, Simmons said he wanted to
murder someone. In chilling, callous terms he talked about his
plan with his friends... Simmons proposed to commit burglary
and murder by breaking and entering, tying up a victim and throwing
the victim off a bridge. Simmons assured his friends they could
"get away with it" because they were minors.
Simmons and 15-year-old Charles
Benjamin broke into the St. Louis home of Shirley Crook. According
to court papers, the two put Crook in her minivan and drove her
to a bridge over the Meramac River. They covered her face in
duct tape and threw her from the bridge. She drowned. Simmons
was sentenced to death by a state court, but the sentence was
later overturned by the Supreme Court of Missouri.
The High Court's decision is
troubling on several fronts. For one thing, Justice Kennedy wrote
that "Juveniles are less mature than adults and, no matter
how heinous their crimes, they are not among 'the worst offenders'
who deserve to die." Tell that to Shirley Crook's grieving
What else did the majority
conclude? "To implement this framework," wrote Justice
Kennedy, "we have established the propriety and affirmed
the necessity of referring to 'the evolving standards of decency
that mark the progress of a maturing society' to determine which
punishments are so disproportionate as to be cruel and unusual."
This rationale reeks of moral
relativism. Instead of upholding and defending the Constitution,
something these justices swore an oath to do, the justices are
essentially imposing their own opinions on society as a whole.
As columnist David Limbaugh puts it, it is "as if [the ruling]
is the final arbiter not just of the law, but our moral standards."
In 18 of 38 states - 47 percent of states that permit capital
punishment - laws ban the execution of offenders under age 18.
The majority justices call this a "national consensus."
Justice Antonin Scalia put it best in his dissent: "Words
have no meaning if the views of less than 50 percent of death
penalty States can constitute a national consensus. Our previous
cases have required overwhelming opposition to a challenged practice,
generally over a long period of time."
Arguably the most outrageous rationale of the High Court's majority
decision is its insistence in relying on international laws and
legal rulings. Justice Kennedy writes that the Court can and
should consider "the overwhelming weight of international
opinion against the juvenile death penalty." This includes
the opposition of "leading members of the Western European
The "overwhelming weight" of international opinion?
"Respected and significant confirmation" of the majority's
conclusions? Has the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court lost
Columnist Debra Saunders points out that European Union nations
not only oppose capital punishment but also oppose life without
parole and deliver notoriously short sentences for heinous crimes.
One example is a German court sentencing a man who killed and
cannibalized another man (actually videotaping his "meal")
to only eight-and-a-half years in prison. He is expected to walk
free after only five years.
If this is the direction our Supreme Court is headed, it would
be wise to heed Saunders' words: "Be afraid, America. Be
very afraid." It makes President Bush's pledge that he will
appoint justices who will interpret the literal meaning of the
Constitution all that more important for our future.
Darryn "Dutch" Martin
is a member of the National Advisory Council of the African-American
leadership network Project 21. Comments may be sent to [email protected].
Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research.
Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries
reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those
of Project 21.
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