NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 15, 2005

The idea of putting a teenager to death strikes many as grotesque, but that is not reason enough for the Supreme Court to end the practice by judicial fiat, writes Stuart Taylor Jr. of the National Journal.

In the 5-4 decision rendered March 1 in Roper v. Simmons, Justice Anthony Kennedy's gave six cogent-sounding reasons for this judgment. However, the Court's ruling is ill-conceived, says Taylor:

  • There is no "national" consensus toward ending juvenile executions -- 20 of the 38 death penalty states allowed executions of these young adults.
  • Far from being rare, the number of juvenile executions has held steady or even gone up since the court upheld the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-olds in 1989.
  • Juveniles can be as calculating as older murderers: Christopher Simmons told friends he wanted to murder someone; planned to break into a house, tie up his victim, and throw her off a bridge; and he assured accomplices that they "could get away with it" because they were juveniles.
  • Juveniles have the moral-reasoning ability to be held responsible for murder; the same mental health experts who argue otherwise have found that, with regard to abortion without parental involvement, girls as young as 14 "develop abilities similar to adults in reasoning about moral dilemmas."
  • Judges are not the moral conscience of the country; when interpreting laws of a moral nature, they should look outward -- to the elected representatives, voters, juries and the Constitution -- rather than inward.

Finally, although European nations object to the death penalty, that should not influence the decision to ban the practice in the United States; after all, the country does not adhere to international "standards" on myriad policy issues, such as separation between church and state, and abortion.

Source: Stuart Taylor Jr., "The Court, and Foreign Friends, As Constitutional Convention," National Journal, March 3, 2005.

For text (subscription required):


Browse more articles on Government Issues