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March 6, 2005 - A Minor Matter

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On the March 1 the Supreme Court ruled - in Roper v. Simmons - on the death penalty, and on what constitutes an adult in a civil society.


Yes, we used to be the only country in the world, besides Somalia, that officially sanctioned the death penalty for juveniles.  Now the Supreme Court has messed that up!   We lose one more way to feel emotionally satisfied – we used to be able to have our government kill those who offend us.  First they ruled we shouldn’t execute the mentally retarded who couldn’t understand their crime - see this on Atkins v. Virginia (2002).  Now this ruling.  These nine are taking away all our fun.  Damn.  Jesus is weeping.


Well, to drop the snide attitude, those who are enthusiastic about the death penalty want it as "a statement of moral value" to be applied widely and often to say who we are – and to clearly show what we just won't tolerate.  I just wonder what else it shows about us.


Anyway, Justice Scalia was pissed off and read his dissent from the bench!  The “framers of the constitution” wanted this kill-the-bad-guys stuff!  The twenty-four page dissent is here - and he calls the majority opinion a "mockery" for supposing that the Constitution's meaning "has changed over the past 15 years."  What about original intent!


There was some amusing comment in Slate’s open forum -


Note this -


Scalia presumes that it is possible to fathom out the exact meaning of original intent in the language.

That in and of itself is a self-delusional fallacy. Proof of the fallacy can be found in the way it violates chaos theory precepts, if nowhere else. After all, since Scalia isn't living and breathing in the same time, he can't be exactly sure he's got it right. Sure he THINKS he does, but that's just an emotion-based response.

In this way he is the same as the Randroids who spout objectivism and get very emotional in defending their views precisely because it appeals to their emotional makeup.


And this -


It takes great suppleness of mind to pronounce that the meaning of "cruel and unjust punishment" should be left not to the "subjective views" of nine living, breathing (some barely though) individuals in dark robes, but to the considered opinion of a handful of slave-owners who, apart from being unfamiliar with inventions like DNA evidence or modern plumbing, pose the additional disadvantage of being unreachable by usual means of communication. The rallying cry to replace plutocracy by cryptocracy is oddly charming, but only one among the numerous intellectual feats of the movement. Take, for example, the great Scalia's law of jurisprudence - that standards may be allowed to evolve only after "overwhelming opposition over a long period of time". He is effectively saying that people should leave him alone with his duck hunting and lecture tours, and if some 48 states or so ever came to decide that frying underage defendants is not something they can stomach, he can be summoned back to beat Wyoming and North Dakota black and blue with the 14th. I wish I had the skills to make such a stirring plea to my employers, demanding paid unemployment for life.

The Bill of Rights is there to protect a few cherished rights and principles from mob opinion. The latter, it is worth remembering, condoned segregation, disenfranchisement and violent oppression only till the other day. If the operative words of these protective clauses are to be interpreted by the mob leaders themselves, we are back to mob rule through a wonderful circularity. Woe be upon the traitor who may look to the rest of civilization for non-binding ideas -- the world which has supplied the statue of liberty, most of the human stock, the scientific inventions on which American might is built, and so on and so forth.


And this -


Yet, we've no inclination to make the same judgment call about sex—when a 16 year old minor engages in sex with an adult we imprison the adult … because we assume the incompetence of the minor. But then, we're addressing sex, rather than murder—violence we're fine with; it's sex that really gets our dander up.


Oh well.  It’s done.


But Fat Tony is angry.  And this will play into what happens when the next Supreme Court justice retire tired or drops dead, and we need a replacement.  People will remember who took away this option.


There has been a bit in these pages on the death penalty – see this from October 2003 for example. 


Should we have that option - even for the retarded and minors – as something that clearly shows what we will not tolerate?  As said then, of course the families of the victim(s) want justice, as does society, and rightly so.  But it seems we cannot seem to get the problems with "just retribution" worked out.  And maybe it is too emotionally satisfying – something beyond logic.


As then, consider this -

"Our ancestors... purged their guilt by banishment, not death. And by so doing, they stopped that endless vicious cycle of murder and revenge."
      - Euripides

"'It is the job of thinking people not to be on the side of the executioners."
      - Albert Camus (1913-60)





Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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