Do you agree with The Supreme Court that the death penalty is unconstitutional when applied to juvenile killers? Why or why not?
This ruling is badly flawed.
First off, an observation: the majority of the posts agreeing with this ruling have done so on the basis of a general opposition to the death penalty. The death penalty itself remains Constitutional, so this appeal to "why should the government kill people" has no bearing on this particular question for debate.
This debate should be centered around one topic: is there a national consensus that the death penalty should not apply to minors? Clearly, there is not. 38 states have the death penalty. Of those, 20 allow murderers under the age of 18 to be executed (not including Missouri, whose Supreme Court ruled the practice un-Constitutional by state law). That leaves 47% of states with death penalties opposed to the execution of minors. Not a consensus. Even if we expand it to all states, 18 out of 50 states allow minors to receive the death penalty. 38% of states' opinions should be discarded?
As others have stated, the real way to change this would have been through the legislature. Change the laws of the states involved. No one has a problem with that enforcement of the will of the people. The way 5 men and women interpret the "will of the people" is astounding to me.
Other issues injected into this debate (even by the Justices in the majority) as simple red herrings. International opinion on this matter has nothing to do with the Constitution and should have absolutely nothing to do with this ruling.
What is astounding about this case is how (apparently) quickly the "consensus" of the country has evolved. In 1989, the court declared the death penalty for minors Constitutional. The crime involved in this case was committed in 1993. The lawyers for Simmons have been delaying enforcement of his sentence until now. Presumably, had Simmons been executed in the first 11 years after his sentence was imposed, doing so would have been Constitutional. Today (after the fact) it is not. In the past 10 years, 4 states have passed laws removing the death penalty for minors. So apparently, these 4 states have swung the balance from it being Constitutional in 1993 (when the crime was committed) to it being un-Constitutional in 2005. Has the meaning of the Constitutional really changed in the past 15 years?
The other astonishing factor here is the details of the crime. Simmons (and a friend) kidnapped Shirley Crook from her home during a robbery in 1993. There is evidence that Simmons and others planned the robbery in advance and had talked about throwing the victim off of a bridge. Simmons tied Crook up, after she recognized him, with electrical cord, leather straps, and duct tape. He beat her badly enough to fracture her ribs (according to the medical examiner) and tossed her, still alive, off a bridge into the Meramec River. The cause of death was drowning. Imagine what kind of person throws a still alive person off a bridge while she is tightly bound. As Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said "I don't believe that Chris Simmons' life would have been turned around by one more birthday party." Rough Justice
The legal justification for this ruling is also deeply flawed. Kennedy, writing for the majority, invokes the American Psychological Association to say that minors cannot take moral responsibility for their decisions. This same group argued exactly the opposite when the issue was parental consent for abortions.
Abortion figures heavily in Scalia's critique. He tweaks liberals who think minors are mature enough to make abortion decisions but not mature enough to deserve execution.
As petitioner points out, the American Psychological Association (APA), which claims in this case that scientific evidence shows persons under 18 lack the ability to take moral responsibility for their decisions, has previously taken precisely the opposite position before this very Court. In its brief in Hodgson v. Minnesota, 497 U. S. 417 (1990), the APA found a "rich body of research" showing that juveniles are mature enough to decide whether to obtain an abortion without parental involvement. ... The APA brief, citing psychology treatises and studies too numerous to list here, asserted: "[B]y middle adolescence (age 14-15) young people develop abilities similar to adults in reasoning about moral dilemmas, understanding social rules and laws, [and] reasoning about interpersonal relationships and interpersonal problems."
The international references are also deeply flawed.
Kennedy, in his majority opinion, also refers to international standards, including the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the US is not a signatory. How a sitting Supreme Court justice could use the laws of other nations in his interpretation of our law is beyond me.
From the WSJ editorial page: The Blue State Court
Perhaps the most troubling feature of Roper is that it extends the High Court's recent habit of invoking foreign opinion in order to overrule American laws. "It is proper that we acknowledge the overwhelming weight of international opinion against the juvenile death penalty," Justice Kennedy writes. We thought the Constitution was the final arbiter of U.S. law, but apparently that's passé.
In invoking international "opinion," however, the majority also seems rather selective. Justice Kennedy cites the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlaws the juvenile death penalty. But that Convention also prohibits imprisonment without parole for juvenile offenders--a penalty favored by some, if not all, 50 states. Is the Court ready to sign on to that international standard too?
Such inconsistency suggests that the real reason this Court has taken to invoking "international opinion" is because it is one more convenient rationale that the Justices can use to make their own moral values the law of the land. And it is no surprise that Justice Kennedy's majority opinion is joined by the four liberal Justices who have long been on record as opposing the juvenile death penalty--Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, David Souter and John Paul Stevens. In Roper they finally found a case, and an inventive legal hook, on which they could lure Justice Kennedy.
I do agree with the Journal's conclusion on this subject:
If there is a silver lining to this case, it is that it probably disqualifies Justice Kennedy from any consideration to be promoted to Chief Justice when William Rehnquist resigns. Some in Washington, and even some in the Bush Administration, have floated this possibility as a way to ensure an easy Senate confirmation. But we doubt that the red-state voters who re-elected President Bush, and gave Republicans a larger majority in the Senate, did so to promote a Justice who thinks their values are an affront to "standards of decency."