The decision on Kennedy v. Louisiana, a case that decided whether or not child rape was punishable by death, was announced this morning. Unfortunately I didn’t have the time to blog on it (daytime blogging will continue to be light for me for the forseeable future) but now that I’ve gotten home I’ve had a chance to read what happened to that poor little 8 year old girl at the hands of a disgrace to civilized society, as well as read some of the ruling, I’m not getting at all how the majority came to its decision.
First, the story:
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruled, 5 to 4, on Wednesday that sentencing someone to death for raping a child is unconstitutional, assuming that the victim is not killed.
“The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child” Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote for the court. He was joined by Justices John Paul Stevens, David H. Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen G. Breyer.
The court overturned a ruling by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which had held that child rape is unique in the harm it inflicts not just upon the victim but on society and that, short of first-degree murder, no crime is more deserving of the death penalty.
Justice Kennedy, while in no way minimizing the heinous nature of child rape, wrote that executing someone for that crime, assuming that the victim was not killed, violates the Eighth Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment, which draws its meaning from “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”
“When the law punishes by death, it risks its own sudden descent into brutality, transgressing the constitutional commitment to decency and restraint” Justice Kennedy wrote.
Of course, I’m no legal expert, but I don’t think one has to be to see something wrong with the 5-4 decision that stated child rape could not be punishable by death. In his dissent, Justice Alito wrote:
A major theme of the Court’s opinion is that permitting the death penalty in child-rape cases is not in the best interests of the victims of these crimes and society at large. In this vein, the Court suggests that it is more painful for child-rape victims to testify when the prosecution is seeking the death penalty. Ante, at 32. The Court also argues that “a State that punishes child rape by death may remove a strong incentive for the rapist not to kill the victim” ante, at 35, and may discourage the reporting of child rape, ante, at 34â€“35.
These policy arguments, whatever their merits, are simply not pertinent to the question whether the death penalty is “cruel and unusual” punishment. The Eighth Amendment protects the right of an accused. It does not authorize this Court to strike down federal or state criminal laws on the ground that they are not in the best interests of crime victims or the broader society. The Court’s policy arguments concern matters that legislators should—and presumably do—take into account in deciding whether to enact a capital child-rape statute, but these arguments are irrelevant to the question that is before us in this case. Our cases have cautioned against using ” â€˜the aegis of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause’ to cut off the normal democratic processes” Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 323 (2002) (Rehnquist, C. J., dissenting), in turn quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U. S. 153, 176 (1976), (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and STEVENS, JJ.), but the Court forgets that warning here.
Update: Wow. Wonders never will cease:
CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) — Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama says he disagrees with a Supreme Court decision striking down the death penalty for child rapists, telling reporters Wednesday that states should be able to execute people for “heinous” crimes.
“I think that the rape of small child, 6 or 8 years old, is a heinous crime,” the Illinois senator said. “And if a state makes a decision that under narrow, limited, well-defined circumstances the death penalty is at least potentially applicable, that does not violate our Constitution.”
Video here (via AllahPundit):
Update 2: To say LA Gov. Bobby Jindal is not pleased with the decision is putting it mildly.