The Honolulu Advertiser

October 18, 2004


During the presidential debates, President Bush suggested his ideal of a Supreme Court justice would be one who does not legislate but simply interprets the Constitution according to how it was written.

The full flower of this thinking is the judge who is a “strict constructionist,” taking the Constitution at its word.

Yet even the most conservative judge is affected by, and takes into account, the changing political, social and scientific world in which he or she lives.

That point is dramatized by a case soon to be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. It involves the execution of juveniles.

The case before the Supreme Court today deals with a heinous crime involving a Christopher Simmons, who was 17 when he tied up, gagged and threw into the river an elderly woman he and a companion had just robbed.

But the issue before the court is not whether Simmons, now in his late 20s, should be punished for the crime. The question is whether that 17-year-old who committed the crime should be put to death.

Our hope is that the Supreme Court will conclude, rightly, that he should not. The court has already found that executing the mentally incompetent amounts to “cruel and unusual” punishment prohibited by our Constitution.

Unusual certainly fits the bill here, too. Already, 28 states forbid the execution of 16- and 17-year-olds. Internationally, only a handful of nations such as Congo, China, Iran, Nigeria and Yemen, allow the execution of juveniles.

Further, scientific evidence is increasingly clear that young people clinically lack the judgment and mental maturity to make rational decisions. Our law already recognizes that. It does not allow, for instance, those younger than 18 to drink, serve as combatants in the military or vote.

Yet we think they are mature enough to be put to death for their actions? It makes no sense.

There are more than 72 juveniles (or, mostly former juveniles) on death row today. With all respect to their victims, the lives of these people should be spared.


The Honolulu Advertiser