Thursday | June 20, 2002
Rolling back the death penalty
The US Supreme Court has ruled that executing mentally retarded murderers is unconstitutional. This decision is significant. There is palpable momentum nationwide against the death penalty, and this latest rollback is symptomatic of shifting public sentiment. In 1989, only two death penalty states outlawed execution of the mentally disabled. Now, 18 states prohibit it. Indeed, Justice Stevens, writing for the majority, pointed to this nationwide shift as evidence bolstering the courts 6-3 decision.
The dissenters made up the court's far right-wing cabal: Rehnquist, Thomas, and Scalia. And they are pissed. Get this -- instead of saying the traditional "I respectfully dissent", Rehnquist wrote the terse "I dissent." Whew! In the pedantic world of Supreme Court jurisprudence, that is a definitive "Up Yours!"
I was happy to see normally conservative O'Connor side with the majority. A former staunch supporter of the death penalty, she recently (and publicly) reconsidered her position. She is now the swing vote on similar cases, and this could bode well for opponents of the death penalty. I was a bit surprised to see Kennedy vote with the majority. I'll have to look into it a bit, but if I recall correctly, the center-right jurist has also been a solid supporter of the death penalty.
Regardless, with O'Connor now joining the court's liberal wing, it seems that the death penalty now faces fire both at the state (Illinois and others) and federal levels.Posted June 20, 2002 08:23 AM | Comments (3)