Is it Cruel and Unusual Punishment to Execute Capital Murderers under 18

March 2, 2005

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 yesterday in Roper v. Simmons that it is cruel and unusual punishment to execute a person who committed a capital crime when he was between the ages of 15 and 18. The majority reasoned 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.

But listen to some of the “enlightened” language Justice Kennedy is so fond of serving up these days:

Writing for the majority, Kennedy said:

The prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishments,” like other expansive language in the Constitution, must be interpreted according to its text, by considering history, tradition, and precedent, and with due regard for its purpose and function in the constitutional design. To implement this framework 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. Trop v. Dulles, 356 U. S. 86, 100-101 (1958) (plurality opinion).

Does it not strike you as presumptuous and arrogant for the Court to allude to “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society?” Is that not a full-blown endorsement of moral relativism? Are the justices currently sitting on the Court more morally evolved than the justices sitting on the Court at the inception of the republic? Is evidence of our evolution the Court’s normalizing of homosexual behavior and its sanctification of abortion? Has human behavior changed, essentially, since the framers drafted the Constitution and the people ratified it? Has it changed in the last 4,000 years?

One stubborn reality that will always contradict the liberal and secular worldview on its face is the unchanging quality of human nature. Read the stories in the Bible and you will see that human beings were up to the same exact types of mischief they are today. If we were evolving on a linear path to human perfection as humanists, secularists and liberals argue, would we have witnessed the type of atrocities we did in the 20th Century, or already in this century?

It is such specious reasoning for the Court to start down this road of changing the rules because we have evolved as a society. If that’s true, then doesn’t it stand to reason that the entire framework of the Constitution itself must be re-examined — God forbid? If we have evolved as to the propriety of administering certain punishments, then what about the other standards and precepts the framers incorporated in the Constitution?

Or even more pointedly, if we have evolved as to the propriety of administering certain punishments, then why did the jury in this case and the Missouri Supreme Court affirm that the killer should be executed? That is, if what Kennedy is saying about the moral evolution of society is true — given his obvious assumption that such evolution dictates that we just don’t execute 17 year old murderers — then why wasn’t the jury and state Supreme Court similarly enlightened?

Do the justices even think through these things? His assertion of the moral evolution of society is self-defeating. If it were true we wouldn’t need his Decree from on high correcting the Cro-Magnon decision of the Neanderthal jury. The truth is that elitists believe they have evolved morally and they want to impose their standards on the rest of society. I thought secularists and humanists, by the way, were opposed to “legislating” morality.

So, without saying anything further about the opinion I just want to make the point that if the reason the Court is justifying the change in the law is that we have evolved as a society morally, the opinion is hopelessly flawed without further analysis. Not only have we not evolved — since human nature hasn’t changed — the triers of fact in this very case, prove that they did not apply such an evolving standard. The Court’s words in this regard are vainglorious tripe, signifying nothing.