SCOTUS Bans Death Penalty for Child Rape
The Supreme Court has ruled that raping a child is not sufficiently heinous a crime to warrant capital punishment.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday outlawed executions of people convicted of raping a child.
In a 5-4 vote, the court said the Louisiana law allowing the death penalty to be imposed in such cases violates the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.
“The death penalty is not a proportional punishment for the rape of a child,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in his majority opinion. His four liberal colleagues joined him, while the four more conservative justices dissented.
The ruling isn’t surprising, in that it follows thirty-plus years of High Court rulings limiting the death penalty to premeditated murder and treason. That doesn’t, however, make it a good outcome. Surely, the elected representatives of the people are better judges of which crimes most merit society’s harshest punishment than nine judges cloistered away from that society.
“The harm that is caused to the victims and to society at large by the worst child rapists is grave,” Alito wrote. “It is the judgment of the Louisiana lawmakers and those in an increasing number of other states that these harms justify the death penalty.”
But Kennedy said the absence of any executions for rape and the small number of states that allow it demonstrate “there is a national consensus against capital punishment for the crime of child rape.”
No, it doesn’t. It may show nothing more than that most states have acceded to the dictates of the Supreme Court. For that matter, what about Federalism? Doesn’t Louisiana get to have different laws than California?
And the defendant here was a particularly loathsome individual guilty of the most heinous of crimes: raping his eight-year-old stepdaughter. It’s not at all clear to me why this is less worthy of execution than, say, shooting someone for stealing your drugs.