The Republican (Springfield, MA)

October 11, 2004


One day, we hope, the United States Supreme Court will rule that the death penalty is unconstitutional.

In the meantime, the nation’s highest court can take a step toward that end by ruling it unconstitutional to execute a juvenile.

On Oct. 13, the court will hear arguments in Roper vs. Simmons, a challenge to the constitutionality of the death penalty for persons who committed crimes when they were 16 or 17 years old.

The United States is one of only a handful of nations where such executions are still possible.

In 1988, the court prohibited the execution of those whose crimes were committed at 15 or younger, but it ruled the next year that capital punishment for 16- and 17-year-old defendants does not constitute “cruel and unusual punishment.”

While there have been few executions for juvenile crimes in recent years, the United States has executed more juvenile offenders than the rest of the world combined since 1990. It is a shameful record.

The United States does not allow a 16-year-old to buy cigarettes, buy a six-pack of beer, sit on a jury or vote on Election Day because we don’t trust his capacity to make the right decision. That is an old argument, but it is sound. By any measure or definition, a 16-year-old is still a child.

In July, 48 nations formally asked the U.S. Supreme Court to end the execution of juveniles. Briefs were also filed by 18 Nobel Peace Prize winners, 28 U.S. religious organizations, the American Bar Association and the nation’s largest doctors’ organization urging the nation’s highest court to declare it unconstitutional. Few cases before the court have generated such a loud and uniform response.

In 2002, the court decided by a 6-3 margin that the execution of the mentally retarded is cruel and unusual punishment, and thus unconstitutional. We hope that the justices would use the same logic on Oct. 13.

4 justices - John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter - issued an unusual statement last year calling the death penalty for juveniles “inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society.”

One more makes a majority.

Can 4 Supreme Court justices and 18 Nobel Peace Prize winners be wrong?


The Republican (Springfield, MA)