The Republican (Springfield, MA)

July 21, 2004


Most of the world agrees on this much: A civilized nation does not execute its young.

Virtually every nation in the world shares this fundamental standard of decency, even some nations with histories of human rights violations.

In this spirit, 48 nations asked the Supreme Court this week to end the execution of people in the United States for crimes they committed before they turned 18.

Briefs were also filed by 18 Nobel Peace Prize winners, 28 U.S. religious organizations, nine former American diplomats, the American Bar Association and the nation’s largest doctors’ group urging the nation’s highest court to declare it as unconstitutional.

Since capital punishment was reintroduced in the United States in 1976, 22 people have been executed for crimes they committed as minors. It is a record that stains America’s reputation throughout the world, leads to charges of hypocrisy and damages the nation’s credibility as a world leader.

In 2002, the Supreme Court ruled that mentally retarded people could not be executed, reasoning correctly that the punishment violated the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment.

If the justices apply the same reasoning when they hear this case in the fall, they will block the executions of people who are guilty of being juveniles at the time of their crimes.

Last year, the high court’s four most liberal justices - John Paul Stevens, Stephen G. Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and David H. Souter - issued a statement calling the death penalty for 16- and 17-year-old killers “inconsistent with evolving standards of decency in a civilized society.”

If one of the other justices will join them this fall, this punishment will finally be declared unconstitutional.

A teen-age killer does not instantly become an adult when he pulls the trigger or slashes a knife at his victim. He is still an adolescent, an impulsive juvenile who does not possess the level of moral culpability to justify imposing the death penalty. Do what must be done, but don’t kill him.

The United States has executed more juvenile offenders than the rest of the world combined since 1990.

Judging from the briefs filed with the Supreme Court this week, it seems the world has been watching.


The Republican (Springfield, MA)