The U.S. Supreme Court narrowly ruled today that sentencing laws which require children convicted of murder to be sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole are unconstitutional. It is a sign of our times that such a modest ruling — one that still allows kids to be sentenced to life in prison without parole and merely permits judges to consider mitigating facts before imposing such a sentence — would even be controversial.
But, hey, we live in a world in which a Supreme Court Justice — in this case the amazingly reactionary Samuel Alito – can write something like the following (as he did in dissent):
“…it is hard not to feel sympathy for a 14-year-old sentenced to life without the possibility of release. But no one should be confused by the particulars of the two cases before us. The category of murderers that the Court delicately calls ‘children’ (murderers under the age of 18) consists overwhelmingly of young men who are fast approaching the legal age of adulthood.”
You got that? Sam Alito thinks it’s downright wimpy to think of 14-year olds as children because,well, hell, they’re big and mean and will be adults shortly…in four years.
Good grief — what planet is this man on?! Has he read anything about the way the human brain develops and how far it has to go in a 14-year old? Has he stopped to ponder the utter absurdity of thinking that we can “deter” troubled children like the ones described in the decision with such laws.
Bottom line: While the decision is a welcome one, it is also a sad commentary on just how far backwards the right’s sustained attack on the federal judiciary has taken the country. Before our courts can move into the 21st Century, it looks as if we’ll first have to figure a way to drag them out of the 19th.