The 5-4 decision handed down Monday was written by Obama appointee Justice Elena Kagan. She was joined by her fellow liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Obama appointee Sonia Sotomayor, and by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy who often casts the swing vote on SCOTUS.
Justice Kagan, writing for the majority, said: “Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features—among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences. It prevents taking into account the family and home environment that surrounds him—and from which he cannot usually extricate himself—no matter how brutal or dysfunctional.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito dissented.
Chief Justice Roberts accused the court’s majority of confusing decency with leniency. “It is a great tragedy when a juvenile commits murder — most of all for the innocent victims,” Roberts wrote. “But also for the murderer, whose life has gone so wrong so early. And for society as well, which has lost one or more of its members to deliberate violence, and must harshly punish another.”
In a stronger dissent noting the consequences of the majority ruling, Justice Alito said: “Even a 17 ½-year-old who sets off a bomb in a crowded mall or guns down a dozen students and teachers is a ‘child’ and must be given a chance to persuade a judge to permit his release into society. Nothing in the Constitution supports this arrogation of legislative authority.”
Actually, the ruling involved two different cases. In one, a 1999 Arkansas case, Kuntrell Jackson, together with two friends, attempted to rob a video store, killing the store’s clerk. Jackson took part in the robbery barely three weeks after his 14th birthday.
In the 2003 Alabama case, after spending the evening smoking marijuana together with an older youth and with a 52-year-old neighbor, Evan Miller, 14 at the time, beat up the neighbor and then set the man’s trailer on fire so that he burned to death. Miller’s lawyers claimed he was a victim of serious domestic abuse throughout his childhood.
I think that Kagan’s ruling is full of shit! I have long maintained that it is no longer appropriate to set an arbitrary age – 17, 18, 19 or whatever – for deciding whether a young person is mature enough to be or not to be responsible for criminal behavior.
Our juvenile laws were enacted long ago on the premise that children who committed mischievous or other delinquent acts – breaking windows, shooting out street lights with BB guns, shoplifting, petty thefts, truancy – were too immature to realize that what they were doing was wrong. That was long before juveniles started to pile up armed robberies and heinous crimes of violence.
Juveniles mature much earlier than they did years ago and they have become more sophisticated in their criminal behavior. Whether they are gang bangers, drug dealers, armed robbers or cold blooded killers, the age differentiation for criminal responsibility should no longer apply.
The SCOTUS ruling as written by Justice Kagan, completely disregards the reality that youths under 18 are often sophisticated criminals. As punishment for the most heinous of crimes and to protect the public, some of those under-18 sophisticated criminals should be given a mandatory sentence of life without parole!
What sets off my alarm bells is the awful truth that if Obama gets reelected, he will be able to appoint more liberals to the Supreme Court, like his appointees Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.